'The Art of Autism' Shifts Perspectives and Shatters Stereotypes

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 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.”

You can learn more about the Art of Autism project on their website. You can also email to become involved, and “like” the collaborative on Facebook.

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?

  • The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions 1 of 13
    The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions
    All images used with the explicit permission of The Art of Autism Collaborative.
  • ‘Cat in Space’ by Natalie Totire 2 of 13
    'Cat in Space' by Natalie Totire
    Chicago-based artist Natalie Totire only drew flowers as a child, but later began including animals and people in her work. "My art isn't just a hobby or a career," says Ms. Totire. "I have to use it to think and remember."
  • ‘An Abstract Flower Garden II’ by Trent Altman 3 of 13
    'An Abstract Flower Garden II' by Trent Altman
    Trent Altman is an award-winning artist from Louisville, KY, but his work exhibits nationally in fine arts shows and galleries. Trent is one of four artists featured in The Art of Autism to be honored by the United Nations with a 2012 Autism Awareness stamp. "For me, the process of creating rises above all else," says Trent, "as I make art to nurture my mind, heart, and soul." You can visit Trent's website at
  • ‘African Elephant’ by Marcy Deutsch 4 of 13
    'African Elephant' by Marcy Deutsch
    When Washington artist Marcy Deutsch was diagnosed with autism at age five, doctors told her parents that Marcy would never go to college, never make friends, and that she would require placement in an institution or group home when she became an adult. Defying the odds, Marcy graduated from college with honors, has learned to fly airplanes, has started her own successful business, and is becoming a public speaker. You can visit Marcy's website at
  • ‘Wildfire’ by Erin Clemens 5 of 13
    'Wildfire' by Erin Clemens
    Pennsylvania poet Erin Clemens is the 2011 Naturally Autistic (ANCA) award recipient for poetry. "To me, my poetry is a way of expression and communication," says Erin. "It is a way to release emotion that is building up inside." You can visit Erin's blog at I Have Aspergers, and you can also follow her on Twitter.
  • ‘Teeny Toddler’ by Wil Kerner 6 of 13
    'Teeny Toddler' by Wil Kerner
    Wil Kerner is a Washington State artist who works in colored paper cut-outs. Wil's art is cut from regular construction paper, sulfite construction paper, colored card stock, and colored office print stock. Wil, who is classified as an autistic savant, has an unrelenting desire to create art. You can visit his website at
  • ‘Party Boy’ by Wil Kerner 7 of 13
    'Party Boy' by Wil Kerner
    Another of Wil Kerner's joyful works. According to Wil's website: "Wil's autism prevents him from interacting in spoken and written form typical of young people his age." His true depth of understanding human emotion is nevertheless evident in
    his art.
  • ‘Nude’ by Esther Brokaw 8 of 13
    'Nude' by Esther Brokaw
    Connecticut artist Esther Brokaw is an untrained artist whose work is absolutely stunning. The winner of the 2011 Autistically Natural (ANCA) award, Esther works in acrylic, watercolor, and oil paints. You can see more of Esther's beautiful work at
  • ‘Victory’ by J.A. Tan 9 of 13
    'Victory' by J.A. Tan
    Artist and poet J.A. Tan is a recent graduate of Emily Carr University, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He is another one of the artists to be honored by the United Nations with a 2012 Autism Awareness Stamp. More of J.A.'s art can be found at
  • ‘Appaloosa’ by Grant Manier 10 of 13
    'Appaloosa' by Grant Manier
    Grant Manier is an eco-artist from Houston, TX. At the age of seven, his behavior of reptitively tearing paper was a way of comforting his anxiety and tuning it out. Others may have seen this as obsessive-compulsive disorder and a behavior to eliminate. However, Grant's mom Julie never discouraged it. Combining recycling with paper tearing led to Grant's unique form of eco-art. This mixed media piece includes over 6,000 pieces of recycled material, and took Grant over 130 hours
    to create.
  • ‘Self Study in Blue/Green’ by Seth Chwast 11 of 13
    'Self Study in Blue/Green' by Seth Chwast
    At age 18, Seth Chwast of Cleveland Heights, OH was evaluated for a career in dry mopping. He took his first art class at 20, and by age 23 was featured as an artist on The Today Show. Seth has provided cover art for three medical textbooks, and has been featured in two documentaries. You can visit Seth's website at
  • ‘Mixed Grids’ by Susan Brown 12 of 13
    'Mixed Grids' by Susan Brown
    Susan Brown is a mixed-media artist from Sayville, NY who began drawing at age five. She first painted her characteristic grid-like drawings on cardboard in the 1980s, while working as a dishwasher at Friendly's, where cardboard packing was readily available. Her work reflects her eclectic interests in portraiture, transportation, and landscapes.
  • ‘Silver Birch in Sunlight’ by Jack Carl Anderson 13 of 13
    'Silver Birch in Sunlight' by Jack Carl Anderson
    Washington artist Jack Carl Anderson used to isolate himself from people for long periods of time. After receiving his diagnosis of Asperger syndrome as an adult, he was able to discover healthy ways to acknowledge and handle the behavioral aspects of his diagnosis. In 2011, Jack and his partner Mike created HeART of the Spectrum Autistic Community Center in Seattle. "Because each day I feel so deluged with input, words, and distractions," says Jack, "I keep my creative style simple, graphic, and conceptually direct." To see more of Jack's art, please visit

(All images used with explicit permission from The Art of Autism Collaborative.)

Read more from Joslyn at her blog stark. raving. mad. mommy. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for even more funny.

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