“Self Portrait” 2011
Our family created this website to help our son Jackson, who has autism, accomplish his stated goal of “being a big artist.” He will soon be an adult and need to enter a world that has not always valued the mental functioning of people with autism. As Jackson states, “The autism brain is powerful.” Our goal is for the website to show the power and beauty inside one such mind.
We also wanted to help teachers, doctors and therapists gain insights into the mental functioning of a person with autism and show that it can go far beyond what is initially diagnosed. Jackson spent a great deal of time in all kinds of therapies, but by far the best piece of advice I ever received was from Temple Grandin, who told me “Follow his interests.” And we have.
However, there was no magic bullet for helping Jackson make this progress–it was more than a decade of multiple expensive therapies (like ABA, Speech, OT, etc.), dedicated educators, an amazing local Autism Society support group, combined with top quality medical care, my advocacy and Jackson’s incredible natural intellect. Our neurologist said to me, “I never see a child make as much progress as Jackson without a mom like you, but I also see a lot of moms as dedicated as you that didn’t get a Jackson.”
I do not want to give the impression that guiding someone with autism through life is easy, cheap or involves quick fixes. It has been more than 11 years of non-stop work as well as Jackson’s natural intellectual gifts that yielded the progress, in my opinion.
The Impact of Temple Grandin on our parenting:
Temple Grandin encourages young people with autism to start preparing for a career as soon as possible, and that’s why we built our son a website to sell his art. If you have not had the chance to hear her speak, you must go see her in person. Ms. Grandin met Jackson at an autism event and when he greeted her in Japanese and other languages, she declared, “He’s a linguist! You’ve got to get him together with Steven Pinker at Harvard.” When I told her he was an artist, she said, “Where is his art? How can I see it? You need to always have his art with you in case someone that you meet can help you get him a job.” So, again, the website seemed like our best way to follow the advice of Ms. Grandin, whom we consider our “North Star” in making decisions about our son’s future.
And finally, we dream of a day where people with autism will be fully integrated into our society. We hope this website provides a small step forward in the advancement of that tremendous goal.
We (Jackson and his family) hope that our website will help people understand that even though people with autism may not use verbal language well or at all, they still have many ideas going on in their heads and lots of potential to communicate. They have viewpoints and interests too! As Jackson says, “People with autism have their own appetites [interests].”
Jackson wanted this website to exist so that he could “be a great artist” and also so that people could understand the autistic brain. He feels that autism makes him a great artist, and it does, he also knows that he needs help with gaining more skills for independence, also true.
To this end, we have created an Art Shop to sell Jackson’s work to fund his ABLE account (his special needs fund that pays for therapy, school, attendant care and other autism-related needs). All proceeds from his art shop go into this special needs fund to help Jackson reach his self-proclaimed goals of being a working artist when he grows up.