The Art of Autism: How Painting Changed an Autistic Teen’s Life

Written on April 9, 2012 at 10:19 am , by

Guest blogger Debra Hosseini, author of The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions, on how painting changed her autistic son’s life.

“I don’t think Kevin belongs here,” Ellen, the preschool director, gently says. “He doesn’t play well with other kids. He knocks over their toys and doesn’t engage.”

I blink hard; tears well up in my eyes. My heart sinks as I watch Kevin, a solitary child in a room full of children, lining up the toy trains.

Looking around the happy parent-participation schoolroom I say sadly, “But I like it here.”

“Kevin needs more structure than we offer; the County has a program for children like Kevin.”

For the next three years a little orange bus arrives at our house each school day. Kevin is barely tall enough to see out the bus windows as it bumps along for the twenty-mile trip to his school.

At first I think, He can’t have autism. He loves to be hugged and cuddled. I tell the neurologist this.

“He’ll need care for the rest of his life. You better start planning,” his comment makes my blood turn to ice. That’s when the recurring dreams of Kevin being lost begin.

I meet with Dr.’s Bob and Lynn Koegel at the UCSB Koegel Center for Autism. Therapy begins. Kevin must learn to use his words. We must not give in to him when he screams.

Our house becomes a revolving door of therapists.

Five years later, Kevin’s therapist, Colin, brings art supplies for their session.

Kevin demands, “Draw me a picture.”

“No, you draw me one,” Colin answers.

Thus began Kevin’s and my journey into art.

“Lots of texture,” Kevin exclaims gleefully, smearing the canvas with heavy paint. He loves to mix the colors and feel the brush drag across the canvas. It fulfills a sensory need in him. Soon our house is filled with bright-colored paintings.

Within a year, I need to find places to house all of his art.

I arrange for Kevin and a few other artists to show their work at a charity benefit. My new vocation is born: securing art venues for differently-abled artists.

Now, Kevin is a junior in high school. Last year his art was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in the Ukraine. We flew to Canada for Kevin to receive an international award (from ANCA – Naturally Autistic) for the category “Visual Artist 18 and Under.”

I’m now an author and promoter of talented individuals on the spectrum. My latest book, The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions (April 2012), includes 77 artists and poets, as well as stories of the power of families, love and determination. I hope the readers of the book will be inspired by each artist’s journey.

I’m inspired every day by the art and poetry that fills my inbox. I continue to find venues for artists to be seen and heard.

“Let’s dance,” Kevin’s classmate Ben says to Kevin at the Valentine’s Day party.

I take their picture holding hands as they walk to the dance floor. For the first time, Kevin is making friends.

My reoccurring dream of Kevin being lost has stopped.

Debra Hosseini, is the parent of 3 children. Her youngest, Kevin, is on the autism spectrum. She is the author of The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions. In 2011, she co-founded with autism mom Keri Bowers, The Art of Autism collaborative. For more information visit www.the-art-of-autism.com. Kevin’s website is www.kevingallery.com.

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