"Look At Me"

"Look At Me"
monotype and screenprint

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Cowboy

We went to a wedding this weekend.  Not just any wedding, but my sister-in-law's.  Some parts of it were good and some parts of it were not so good; after all, I had a 6 year old and an 8 year old with me and sitting through a wedding ceremony was no cup of tea.  Both of them were bored and antsy.

However, I have to tell you about something that happened at the wedding.  Something that I thought was incredible.

There were two horse-drawn carriages to take people from the wedding to the wedding reception.  Derek was fascinated by them.  Every time one of them came around the corner he would gasp and say, "Der dey are!" Then he would run as fast as his little legs would carry him up to the carriage and try to jump in.  I had to be on my toes and grab his arm so he wouldn't get run over.  He was that excited.

The carriages were driven by real, live "Cowboys"-- or at least that is what Derek called them.  And they were nice enough to let Derek have several rides before the wedding even took place.

Halfway through the wedding ceremony, Derek decided he had had enough of the wedding and he wanted to go back to the horses.  He ran over to talk to the Cowboy.  He plopped himself into the seat next to him and started chatting away.  When the Cowboy asked him what his name was, he replied, "Peter Parker."  So I explained his obsession with Spiderman. Then Derek saw a number 4 on the side of the house (it's the Haythorn Ranch logo).  So he started counting things.  He discovered that there were 4 horses total and started flapping his hands.  The Cowboy told Derek about the horses.  He also let Derek pick up the reins and didn't even mind that Derek tried to make the horses go forward.

After a while, the Cowboy turned to me and said, "He doesn't miss a thing, does he?  He's autistic, right?"

Surprised, I said yes.  I mean, I wasn't surprised that he knew there was something different about Derek, that's pretty obvious.  But I usually volunteer the information.  Most people don't have the guts to ask.  It's kind of like asking someone if they are pregnant--what if you are wrong and insult someone by accident?

He then told me about a kid he knew growing up, who was also autistic, and reminded him of Derek.

The Cowboy asked Derek lots of questions and Derek answered the way Derek does--sometimes with a single word, and sometimes with a response that had nothing to do with the question.  (He asked how old Derek was and Derek told him "Spiderman.") Sometimes Derek didn't answer at all.  But the Cowboy didn't care. The Cowboy seemed to know exactly how to talk to Derek and what to say. 

I watched the conversation take place with tears in my eyes.

Too often I run into people that look at my son as if he is a bug that needs to be squashed.  It was wonderful to meet a man that wanted to talk to Derek.

Thank you, Cowboy, for making a little boy's day.  He is still talking about you four days later.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Look At Me Two...

People have always asked me how I knew Derek was autistic.  I never really know how to answer. At the time, I didn't really know it was autism, exactly.  I just knew that my son was not developing the way he was "supposed to be" according to the experts.  Looking back now, it's seems so obvious it's almost laughable. (*Key word--almost.) Derek was diagnosed with what is considered "classic" autism.  He's a poster child for it, actually. I've discussed this in other blog posts.  How between 12 months and 18 months my son missed a bunch of milestones and started showing other red flags.  He didn't wave.  He didn't clap. He didn't point.  He had no words at all.  His eye contact became minimal at best.  And he became obsessed with driving his cars back and forth, over and over again. Oh, and the only person who could hold him at all, was me.  He flapped his hands.  He climbed all over me, and the couches, and hid in tight places, seeking pressure.  He also never graduated from eating finger foods like cereal and crackers.  (He still hasn't, really.) I kept trying to get him to eat cut up bananas and spaghetti and lunch meats and he wouldn't go near them with a 10 foot pole.  He wouldn't even open his mouth if I held it to his lips.  He just turned his head and cried...

But I'm not talking about Derek today.  Today I'm sharing another little boy's story.  His story is a little bit different, and not so obvious.

This little boy was a difficult baby.  From day one, things did not come easily for him.  He had trouble figuring out how to latch on to nurse.  It took several days.  And a lot of screaming.  

This little boy didn't sleep well.  He only slept for 30 minutes at a time.  So his mother put him in the stroller and went on long walks, because the movement helped him sleep.  At night, the poor boy, and his mom, cried for hours on end.  She thought it was just colic.  But it wasn't.  Any kind of noise would wake him up--from a door closing to a siren.  She bought a white noise machine for his room. Sometimes, out of desperation, she let him sleep in his vibrating chair.  She slept on the floor next to him.

The boy never learned how to self-soothe, despite his mother's best efforts.  She read every book available, and tried everything everyone recommended.  The little boy cried so hard and got himself so worked up that he would vomit.  It happened so often that the mother invested in a steam cleaner. 

As the boy grew older, things became a little bit easier...and a little bit harder.  He was a very bright little boy, but he demanded a lot of attention.  He slept better, but the child was stubborn and got frustrated easily. Disciplining him was a challenge.  

At 18 months old, the boy knew all of his colors.  He had an incredible vocabulary, and the mother was frequently told, "He speaks like a mini-adult!"  Or, "He's like a little professor!"  He also had an amazing memory and could spout all kinds of facts about dinosaurs--his favorite thing in the world.  

Right before the little boy turned two years old, the mother had another child.  The mother was overwhelmed and sleep-deprived.  The boy was jealous.  Life revolved around eating, sleeping, diaper changes, and well-child check ups.  

The next few years were chaotic.  The youngest child was diagnosed with autism.  Life turned upside-down. Doctor appointments continued.  ABA therapists were in and out of the house daily.  So were speech therapists and occupational therapists.  And the mother was so caught up with trying to help her youngest son, that she didn't realize how much her oldest boy was struggling.  He was a very picky eater--but what kid isn't?  (He wanted food to be luke warm.  He couldn't drink milk straight from the fridge.  His mother had to microwave it for a few seconds.  Otherwise it was too cold.  And he had to let chicken nuggets cool off, or they were too hot.  Mashed potatoes made him gag.)  He also showed signs of aggression and jealousy (she attributed it to the fact that his brother was getting extra attention and took him to see a therapist.)  He continued to speak like an adult--except occasionally he spoke gibberish to others, or in a complete monotone, and his mother had to remind him to either "use his words" or speak "normally."  He also showed signs of anxiety.

The boy was so nervous about starting preschool, that every day for the first two weeks (until he understood the routine), he vomited in the trash can.  The teachers were nice enough that they didn't care.  The mother just brought extra clothes and hoped it would get easier for him.  (It did.) She thought it was because he was a Momma's boy.  (It wasn't.)

As he got older, the boy's fixation on topics continued.  After dinosaurs, he moved on to dragons. Then he switched to Presidents and which presidents were on what coins and dollar bills.  Then, he moved on to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. Then he switched to Minecraft (he LOVED the iPad and wanted to play it all the time.  It was a problem.) Then superheroes.  He became so fixated on a topic, he could talk about it and talk about it until he was blue in the face.  He failed to recognize when others were bored of the subject or had no interest in the subject and was told by others that he was "annoying."

The boy had trouble making friends.  His mom had to remind him to say hi to his friends when they said hi to him.  He also played by himself often--running back and forth, bouncing and crashing off of furniture (proprioceptive dysfunction?) and fighting invisible enemies in his mind.  He even did this at recess--because it was easier than trying to socialize with other kids. If other kids did try to join him, they often got frustrated because the boy made up his own rules to games, and he always won.  If they left to do something else, the boy told his mother his friends were "being rude."  He never saw himself as being part of the problem.

Sometimes, the boy said inappropriate things without realizing it.  For instance, he'd tell his life story to strangers at the grocery store.  He had no stranger danger, and his mother had to remind him constantly that there were certain things he shouldn't share about his life. 

He got bored easily, and didn't know know how to entertain himself.  

Photo by Clay Lomneth
When the boy was in second grade, his teacher mentioned some concerns at parent teacher conferences.  One, that the boy was struggling with writing.  He had trouble with sentence structure, and remembering to capitalize the first word of a sentence and put a period at the end.  Sometimes he had trouble getting his sentences to make sense.  The letters of his words were also spaced too far apart, and he'd go straight into the next word without a space.  So his sentences read like this:  t h e d o g t o o k a w a l k. Two, his handwriting, even when he was really, truly concentrating, was not good.  Three, his drawings were at a kindergarten level.  So he needed help with fine motor skills.  Four, he had trouble paying attention sometimes.  But his math skills were phenomenal. He could add 2 six-digit numbers in his head easily and do multiplication--and the students hadn't even been taught that yet.    

The mother had one thought after conferences:  Uh-oh. 

She thought about her son.  He hummed when he was concentrating.  "Hmmm.  Hmmm.  Hmmm."

He popped his lips.  It became such a habit that he didn't even know he was doing it.  But it drove his parents crazy.  

He flapped his hands when he was excited.  

These were all stims.  

Suddenly, it all made sense.  The mother realized that it was possible BOTH of her kids were on the spectrum.  

She asked the school to go ahead and do the testing.  

Sure enough...  

What do they say?  If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.  I thought that Derek made me an autism expert.  I was wrong.  Sometimes, autism is easy to spot.  Other times, a diagnosis is questionable.  I thought I was going crazy.  I thought I was being paranoid.  I thought a lot of things...

I have two children.  They are both on the autism spectrum.  That spectrum is so very wide...

My boys are as different as night and day.  One is high-functioning (asperger's).  The other is considered "classic" and might live with me his entire life (I'm not being negative--it's just a possibility I have to face.) One speaks like an adult.  The other is just learning to speak. One is serious and sensitive.  The other is happy and easy-going.  Both stim, but in different ways.  They both have sensory issues.  They both love water slides and french fries.  They are also best friends.  

I don't know what the future holds anymore.  I know there will be challenges up ahead that I cannot even fathom at this moment. Some days I'm terrified.  Other days, I know I'll be able to handle whatever life throws at me. 

I know I'm not knocking balls out of the park, but I like to think I'm at least swinging at the pitches.  This game is far from over.
Brothers.  And friends.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Glimpse

"From the outside looking in you can never understand it.

From the inside looking out you can never explain it." --Unknown

I am a stay-at-home-mom who does art on the side. My life, for the most part, revolves around my children. From the moment I wake up in the morning until I close my eyes at night, I am thinking of them. Yes, I think of other things too...but they come first.

Whether I want to or not, I think about autism. It is always there--every minute of every day. It's part of Derek's neurology. It's who he is. And I love who he is. But, let's face it--it's not something that affects our lives once a month, like a menstrual period. Autism impacts everything. If I want to go to the store or on a trip or even out to dinner, I have to think about how it is going to effect Derek and if he can handle it or not. In a lot of cases, the answer is no. For instance, I've been wanting to visit my grandmother in Rhode Island for a while now. She's never met Derek. But could he handle a plane ride? Or a 7 day car trip? I'd like to be optimistic and say yes. But, realistically--the trip would probably be a nightmare for him. 

I'm going to be completely honest with you here. When Derek was first diagnosed, I did a ton of research online. A TON. I read every article I could get my hands on. I read about possible causes. I read about possible cures and treatments. I read about vaccines and chelation and DAN doctors and mercury poisoning and Jenny McCarthy and GFCF diets. I was kind of obsessed. I tried a lot of things. I wanted to do everything I could for my child. The only thing that has really helped him is time, patience, love, therapy, and my attitude change--that he is amazing the way he is and doesn't need to be cured. Now, my goal is NOT to make him pass as "typical", but to help him navigate this world the best he can.

With a child like Derek, it's hard not to be obsessed with autism. Especially when there are daily news reports of autistic kids being bullied and abused, escaping from schools, and drowning. It's a reality most parents don't give much thought. I have nightmares about it.

I'll give you a glimpse at what life is like with a developmentally delayed, autistic child. (Please, don't think I'm complaining here. I'm not. But, I'm also not going to sugarcoat it. I don't do "fakebook." This is my daily life.) This very morning, I woke Derek up. I helped him go to the bathroom. He's 6-years-old. He still wears a diaper at night. (Yes, a diaper--not a pull-up. Pull-ups don't fit him well and they tend to leak. I like sleeping. I'm not about to deal with wet sheets in the middle of the night). He went #2, so I helped him wipe. He needs help with that still, too.  

*Oh, and by the way, Derek sleeps in my bed. I've mentioned before that he has Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, right? About once a month, he wakes up in the middle of the night vomiting uncontrollably. He continues vomiting every 10 minutes or so for 3-5 hours. He sleeps in my bed because A) I'm terrified he'll asphyxiate on his own vomit and B) so that I can help him get to the toilet and minimize the mess. When he vomits, he's seriously like the kid on the Exorcist movie. Somehow, he sprays everything. It's scary as Hell.

Derek during one of his CVS episodes.  

Back to today...I helped Derek change his clothes. He is not capable of dressing himself entirely (yet). He needs help with buttons and zippers and getting his feet in the right holes of his pants--especially if he is tired, which he was this morning. I also helped him get his socks and shoes on.

The entire time I was helping him, Derek was scripting a scene from Despicable Me--I'm pretty sure it was the scene where Gru steals the moon, because he was talking about the shrink ray. Just FYI.

Then came breakfast. Oh, breakfast. Food is a challenge. Derek hates to eat. He has Sensory Processing Disorder (most people with autism have SPD) and can only handle certain textures of foods. He likes dry, crunchy foods and that is about it. It doesn't leave us very many options. Today, I got him to eat a handful of pretzels for breakfast. That was it. Some days, he eats a cookie or a granola bar. I consider it a success if I get him to eat anything at all.

Then I helped him get his coat on and I drove both of my kids to school.

Today was one of the rough days. Derek didn't want to go to school. He couldn't tell me why. (Communication is still sketchy. He's talking more and more, but answering questions is hard.) I had to carry him into the building. He fought tears the entire time. But, at least he wasn't sobbing. Some days, he is.

Most kids go into the auditorium until class starts. (I drop Tyler off there.) Derek can't handle the noise and the crowd, so I take him directly to his classroom. I leave him with his aide, and say a little prayer that he has a good day.

I have a few hours to nap, do housework, work on art, and do errands before the kids come home. I feel like a chicken running around with my head cut off. Some days the kids have dentist or doctors appointments. Lately, one or both kids have had to stay home sick. Since Derek has Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, he is home sick a LOT. I've cleaned up more vomit in my lifetime than I ever thought possible.

After school, Derek has ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. It's every single week day. His therapists help him with the things he is struggling with in school, like writing the ABC's and counting past 10. They also help him with life skills, like eating with silverware, brushing his hair, etc.

This is when I cook supper and help Tyler with his homework.

I'll spare you the details of our supper, bath, and bed time routine. I'll just say that Derek needs help with all of it, and if I get him to eat anything other than dry cereal it is a bloody miracle.

I fall into bed every night exhausted. I run through my day in my head.

I wonder if I'm doing everything I can--for both of my kids. 

I feel like I should be doing more.

I could always do more.

There's a food therapy program at Munroe Meyer.

I could try to get Project Lifesaver available in our county. (Project Lifesaver provides tracking devices for people with autism and Alzheimer's, in case they get lost.)

What about sports? Gymnastics might be good. Or swim lessons at the Y?

Maybe I am obsessed.  

The only way for me NOT to be obsessed is if I walked out on my children and my life.

Obviously that's not going to happen.

Maybe, in some cases, a little obsession is a good thing.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stealing From an Artist

A drawing of my son...

"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."  --Oscar Wilde

I "officially" started this art project in April of 2011.  When I started, I had only two pieces completed.  Both of them were about my own son.  One of them was completed just a few short months after Derek was diagnosed.  It was my way of coping with everything I was feeling.  I didn't know any other autistic children. When I started meeting other families, I literally had to beg them to join the project and let me do portraits of their kids.  The first kid I met was a boy named Aiden.  I thought he was adorable from the start.  He was only a couple of months younger than Derek. They had similar traits (they both liked to spin the wheels of cars), yet they were sooooo different---and it fascinated me. Luckily, his family lives only 30 minutes away, so I see Aiden and his family often.  I've become good friends with his mom and I love seeing the progress he's made.

Derek, me and Aiden at the pool.  

The kids in this project are not just "artwork" to me.  And I've never considered the portraits a "job."  These kids are real, live people.  I have met many of them in person.  Some of the kids have been referred to me by friends and relatives.  Some I have met through other blogs.  But most of them, especially the ones who joined the project in the very beginning, I consider extended family.  You have to understand, I have been talking to the parents and following these kids for almost 3 years now.  I don't stop talking to their families once the portraits are done.  We stay in touch.  I have celebrated first words and potty-training victories right along with the families.  I have watched the kids graduate from preschool.  I have cried with the parents during medical procedures and dental appointments and IEP meetings.  I've cried even more when I found out a sibling protected their brother or sister from a bully or a friend held a hand on a field trip.  The way I see it--we are all in this together.  And if you can't laugh and cry and celebrate together, than this journey is going to be awfully long.

As most of you know, all I have ever wanted to do with this project is show the world how I see autism:  as something beautiful.  Yes, it is difficult and there are days when I want to throw in the towel.  If I wanted to show the world the ugly side of autism I could make prints about meltdowns and head-banging and the like.  But, I am not ashamed of my son and never will be.  Yes, autism can be hard.  But it is also incredible.  My son makes me laugh every single day. He is amazing.  So are all of the kids in this project.  They deserve to be portrayed as such.

This project has grown to almost 50 kids.  FIFTY.  That's way bigger than I originally intended. (I'm thinking about making 50 the cut-off mark.  50 is a nice, even number, right?  I'll have my work cut out for me for at least another 2 years or so.)

Ok, so why am I telling you all of this?

Because unless I am horribly mistaken, someone tried to pretend that my artwork was hers.  We are talking plagiarism, folks.  I'm saying that I think someone used my blog and my facebook page and my gmail account to say that my artwork was hers for a college class.  I don't really know how this could have happened, but people get away with all kinds of crazy stuff online these days.

I'll tell you what I know.

I received a bunch of very strange emails to my autism art project gmail account in the past few months, addressed to another person.  (I didn't open them originally, because I thought they were spam.)

All of the emails came from the same university.  One came from the school's alumni foundation.  One came from a specific teacher and had an attached document with an actual grade for an independent studies class that the woman (I?) had taken.  She got a B in the class (what's up with that???)  I even had a blank email from the woman herself, and I'm guessing she sent it to my gmail to either a) confirm that it was her account or b) see if I even checked that email account anymore.

Oh, and according to that document, it wasn't just a Bachelor's Degree that the girl was getting her degree in. It was a Master's of Arts Degree, which means she had to have some talent to get as far as she did.

I have emailed the college four separate times in the past few months to find out what is being done in regards to the possibility that the woman plagiarized me.  I received only one email back, saying the following: 

This is to confirm that I received your email on Tuesday and I have forwarded it to The Senior Tutor for further investigation.  I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously.  I will contact you with the outcome of the investigation as soon as possible.

This was on November 28, 2013.  An investigation shouldn't take two months.  I don't know what else I can do.  (Probably nothing.) Obviously, the school doesn't think it's as big of a deal as I do.

These kids matter to me.  They are my life.  Autism is my life.  I've been eating, sleeping, breathing it for over 4 years now.  It's all I think about most days.  So, someone tried to pretend my artwork was hers.  Big deal, right?  People keep telling me it's a compliment.  No. Just, no.  Maybe it seems that way to some.  But I keep thinking about the kids.  I don't know if this other woman has an autistic child or not.  Or if she's even been affected by autism at all.  I don't know her.

But I find it highly insulting to think that someone who might know nothing about autism at all could pretend to do a project like this.

When someone steals artwork, it is not like stealing a television or a car.  This type of robbery makes you feel very vulnerable and exposed, because they are not just simply stealing paint that has dried on a canvas. They are stealing your expression and your view of the world.  I communicate my thoughts and feelings through my art.  A tiny piece of myself goes into every portrait.  These kids fill me with hope and inspiration, because most of them have overcome more in just a few short years than I ever will.  My hope is that people who know nothing about autism will see my pieces in a gallery and it will open their eyes just a tiny bit.

Plagiarism is real.  It is alive and well.  And when it happens to you, it hurts.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Not So Little Things

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day hum-drum of life.  Especially when you're exhausted.  One day blurs into the next and nothing ever seems to change.  But, one day, when you stop and look back, you suddenly realize that everything has changed.  

Little things happen every day.  But, as you know, when you have a kid with special needs, the little things are never little.

I don't have any big, monumental stories to tell you.  At least, none that will smack you between the eyes and make you say, "Oh, wow--Derek did that???" (No, my son didn't memorize the Gettysburg Address.)  But I do have lots of "little," every day stories.  In my book, they are just as good.

Yesterday Derek didn't want to take a bath.  So I told him I would blow bubbles for him.  It was one of the best nights ever.  He laughed and laughed and tried to pop the bubbles with his fingers, his toes, and even his face.  I reveled in the moment.  Just two years ago, Derek hated baths.  I remember days of having to chase him around the house and carry him to the bath, kicking and screaming.  I'd wash his hair while he cried big, elephant tears.

My son loves baths now.  And bubbles.  (A little thing that's not so little.)

Then today, when I dropped Derek off at school, he greeted a girl in his class.  He said hi to her without any prompting.  And when he saw his buddy J arrive, he got excited and said, "There he is!"

Derek is making friends.  (Definitely not little.)

The other day I forgot to buy apples, and Derek always has an apple for lunch.  (It's one of the only fruits/vegetables he eats.)  So I packed a box of raisins into his lunch box and hoped for the best.  His para told me later that he was thrilled and exclaimed, "I like raisins!"

Derek is talking more.  And more.  And he's getting better about adapting to changes!  (Not little.) 

Yes, we still have a long way to go.  Derek still thinks that every day is Wednesday (it's like Groundhog Day!)  He also told me he lives in December.  Since his birthday, he's been confused about his age.  And he can't count backwards from 10 to save his life.  (Six, six, four, eight, six!)  But I remember where we were four years ago.  I remember where we were just two years ago.  He's come a long way--a couple steps here, a couple steps there, a hop, a skip, a spin, and of course, a hand-flap or two.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Bear

I have a story to tell you.  It's kind of a cheesy story, so "bear" with me...  :)

Last night when I was getting Derek ready for bed, I remarked that I'd had a rough day and that I was ready to go to bed too.

Derek looked at me and asked, "How come?"

Derek has been asking more questions lately, so this shouldn't have come as a shock to me--but it did.  My son wanted to know what was troubling me.  It sent shivers down my spine.  He'd never asked anything like that before.

And THEN, when I was tucking him into bed, he asked for his bear.  So I handed it to him and he looked at me for a moment.  Then he got out of bed and selected another bear.  He climbed back into bed and gave me the bear, saying, "Here ya go.  Mommy.  Bear."

I asked him, "Do you want me to have a bear too?"
He said, "Yes!  Give hug."

And together we hugged our bears until Derek was asleep.

Why am I telling you this?  Because it occurred to me, as Derek was hugging his bear and struggling to keep his eyes open, that if I could go back in time to the day Derek was diagnosed, I would show my former self this exact moment in time.  I would comfort that weeping woman, who felt so helpless and afraid, and tell her this story.  I would give her hope.  Four years ago my son had no words.  Four years ago my son didn't know how to show compassion.  Four years ago, life was very different.

Today, my heart is full of joy and wonder.  As difficult as the journey has been, I would not change a thing, because simple moments like this would not be as miraculous as they are now.

My son gave me his bear last night.  But he has given me so much more than that...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What is Success?

"I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing..."  --Tom Petty

  1. 1.
    the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
    "the president had some success in restoring confidence"
    synonyms:favorable outcome, successfulness, successful result, triumph;

    I haven't blogged in a very long time.  It's not that I haven't had things to say. I have. It's more that I've had too much to say.  When that happens I have trouble finding the words to express the way I feel.  I'm not good with words. I'm better with art.  So much has happened.  So much is happening.  And some of it is just plain hard to talk about.  

    I guess I'll stick to stuff going on with the project, for now.  

    My show at the Minden Opera House opened on November 2.  The opening reception was this past Friday.  I think, by most people's standards, the Autism Art Project can finally be considered somewhat successful.  A lot of people attended the opening.  Quite a few of them were strangers.  For some reason, that blows my mind.  People I don't even know care about what I'm doing.

    There was even a newspaper article in the Hastings Tribune about the show. I'd post a link, but for some reason I can't find it.  So I'll post a picture.  Maybe you can zoom in and read it if you want?  I thought it was a pretty good article.  

    Here's the crazy thing.  Friday, while I was at the opening, I was extremely happy.  I was "high on life," so to speak.  It was a pretty exciting night.  But the next morning, I woke up depressed as I've ever been.  And I've been trying to figure out why.  

    I came to a conclusion today.  Yes, I'm doing pretty well as an artist.  After 2 years of hard work, my fb page and my blog have a decent amount of followers.  And a couple of my prints have sold.  My 7 year old son thinks this is awesome.  He even asked me Friday night, "Are you famous?" 

    So, am I successful?  Maybe.  I no longer get nervous when I have to speak in public about my art or about what Derek and I have gone through in the past few years.  I consider it the perfect opportunity to educate others about autism.  I don't mind being interviewed by newspapers or tv reporters anymore either--for the same reason.  I finally feel like I'm making a little bit of a difference.    

    But, I don't feel successful.  Maybe I never will.  After all, I'm not really in this for the money or the fame or any of that nonsense...

    This project isn't just about autism awareness anymore, it's about autism acceptance.  I don't think I will feel successful until kids like the ones in this project don't have to worry about being bullied or discriminated against. Autism is everywhere.  Disabilities are everywhere.  Differences are everywhere--and they should be celebrated.  When the world can truly embrace differences, rather than use them as a reason to single people out and make them feel badly about themselves, then maybe I'll feel like a success.  But I think it's going to take a lot more than this art project to accomplish that.