What do you think people with autism are good at? Computers? Engineering? Video games? Sure, that’s the stereotype, and certainly many people with autism are good at those particular fields. But despite the enduring myth that autistic people aren’t creative, some of them are exceptional artists.
Debra Hosseini, whose youngest son has an autism spectrum disorder, founded The Art of Autism collaborative, which has just published its second book, The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions. This stunning book features 77 artists from around the globe, in full-color glossy glory. Debra was kind enough to speak with me, and allowed me to share some of the images and words from the book with you.
After Debra’s youngest son, Kevin, was introduced to art by a behaviorist at the Koegel Autism Center, Debra found that art helped with socialization and focus. “It also fulfills sensory issues,” she says. “Art has proved to help Kevin in many different ways and has added to his self-esteem and sense of community.”
I’ve seen the same benefits of art in my own daughter, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome this year. We’ve been using different art media for years to help with her sensory integration issues, but only after a summer art class last year did we realize her talent for drawing. Although she also has a diagnosis of ADHD, she can focus on writing, illustrating, and art for hours. She’s become more motivated to finish her homework, because then she’ll have more time to work on her projects.
Because my daughter struggles with self-esteem issues, this book has been a tremendous gift to her. Seeing the work of autistic poets and artists in print makes it more “real” to her and reinforces what we as parents are emphasizing to her: that her autism comes with some challenges, but it also comes with gifts.
The best part of The Art of Autism book is it shows my daughter that the myth of the un-creative autistic is just that: a myth.
“That people on the spectrum can’t be creative is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” says poet Erin Clemens, whose work is featured in The Art of Autism. “I’ve found it to be the exact opposite. I’ve connected with other artists, through Blog Talk Radio and Twitter, and I’ve been so impressed with the creativity.”
“It’s just so much of a stereotype,” says Erin, “and it needs to be broken. So many people, when they think of Asperger or autism, think of Rain Man, or of math and science savants. It’s not always true. Everyone on the spectrum is an individual and is unique in their own way.”
The contributors to The Art of Autism certainly go a long way toward breaking down that myth.
Debra founded The Art of Autism project because of Kevin’s success with art. “I was hanging art for Kevin and then broadened my focus to include other people who had disabilities,” she says. “I found that I had good skills for promotion and marketing and didn’t want it to be all about myself and Kevin.”
The Art of Autism project continues to expand. “The project has been organic,” says Debra, expanding from Kevin’s art to “curating exhibits for others on the spectrum; to compiling the first book, Artism: The Art of Autism: Shattering Myths; to starting a collaborative of poets, artists, entertainers, authors, and like-minded organizations; and to the second book, The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions.”
I asked Debra how other people on the spectrum, or other families, can get involved.
“We have book signings by young adults [and their parents] who have written books; we have poetry readings; art exhibits; entertainment shows; etc.,” she says. “The first thing to do would be to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short bio including place of residence, whether or not you can travel, and a description of your talents. Other ways to become involved are volunteer opportunities and, of course, we always are in need of funding.”
Speaking of funding, the Art of Autism project is almost entirely self-funded by Debra Hosseini herself, although a fundraiser on Indiegogo raised some funds to pay for complimentary books for the artists who participated in the new book. “We are aligning with a nonprofit, Celebrate Autism, and hope to do fundraising through them as they are close to completing their 501C3,” Debra says. “Linda Gund Anderson, who started Celebrate Autism, is creating her nonprofit to fund organizations such as ours that have little or no funding.”
Debra adds: “When you support artists and others on the spectrum, you are supporting your own child. This is sometimes a difficult concept for some to grasp, because we live in such a competitive society.”
The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions is available for purchase now directly from the collaborative’s website for $44.95, tax and shipping included.
Just a thought, but you know what your mom probably doesn’t need this Mother’s Day? Another mug with “World’s Best Mom” on it. You know what might make a beautiful, heartfelt gift? This book. It’s gorgeous and inspiring, just like your mom, right?
(All images used with explicit permission from The Art of Autism Collaborative.)
Related Autism Awareness Month posts: