Dylan is a young artist with autism whose vivid paintings caught our eye after an exchange on Twitter. We especially can’t stop staring at his sheep, who looks like Kandinsky’s ‘Color Study – Squares and Concentric Circles (1913)‘ engaged in some rapid mitosis and grew legs. Below, Dylan’s mother Shara was kind enough to share his story with us.
Dylan was diagnosed at 3 with PDD-NOS, mostly because he didn’t speak. Of course he failed all of the language-based tests! He was happy and active, reached all the milestones that as a new parent I monitored weekly if not daily, except for language. I started teaching him sign language to help him communicate without screaming and crying (me too). From the moment he could hold a crayon, he was drawing. Most often the characters were from the Disney Classics, Silly Symphony cartoons and the MGM production logo. Over and over again. We watched Fantasia, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book and of course The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin too many times to count, from beginning to the very end and some scenes multiple times. Buying bulk paper at Costco and giving Dylan a never-ending supply of drawing tools was sure to give us a pathway into his world. What Dylan couldn’t say he drew. Without a single word, we knew what he was feeling, thinking and dreaming about. I have every single sketch digitized so that I am not the next feature on Hoarders.
Dylan was enrolled in public school which offered all the services he needed. Supposedly he would be in a regular classroom with “normal” kids and get pulled out for therapy. Each year it seemed that his time in the regular classroom was less and less. By fifth grade, Dylan spent 90% of his day in a special education classroom doing basic math and reading board books. “He just doesn’t seem to get it,” the teacher told me. I was then approached by the principal about the standardized testing and how an adult would take the test for Dylan while he sat nearby, “the school needs the money.” (The principal was removed from that school shortly thereafter.) A few expletives later we left and Dylan was enrolled at his current school, DLD Sycamore. This school has a 5 to 1 ratio, no one gets left behind. We also enrolled him in Kumon math and reading. The owner wasn’t sure that a child “like Dylan” would be able to progress in the Kumon program. Holy smokes, don’t tell me no. Today, Dylan is on the Kumon honor roll in both subjects for three years running.Two years ago he was evaluated again by the Center for Development and Disability at the University of New Mexico. This time, his diagnosis was the full Autism 299.0 diagnosis. That didn’t change anything for us. Dylan has his routines and it’s a bit of a struggle to change the schedule. He gets anxiety about random things so we’re learning to diffuse that. Dylan has a lot of energy so he swims, kayaks, rides his scooter and has a nightly WWE throw down with my husband. Most of the time he sits in his room where he is surrounded by thousands (if not millions by now) of Legos, Disney VHS tapes (we’re the only ones I know with a working VCR), plastic bath toys from all over the world (he loves eBay), paper and paints. According to Dylan, “drawing and painting relax me and my body feels good. I see the colors, all of the colors, and I am in the painting.” And that is why I started the blog. I wanted to share Dylan, mostly with friends, but now his art has been seen in thirty-four countries. The power of social media!That’s probably much more than you wanted to know and I could go on and on about his love of Doritos, Poore Brothers Salt and Vinegar chips and turkey bacon, water and SpongeBob. But here in the Land of Enchantment it’s dinner time. The troops are hungry.
Shara, from one member of the “working VCR club” to another, it’s a delight to hear about Dylan’s life. His story highlights much we encountered over the course of Owen’s education as well, including the paucity of traditional metrics for evaluating the unique strengths and weaknesses of our children and the power of drawing to draw them out.
To learn more about Dylan’s art, including a massive mural he completed, please go to artbydyl.com.
(We’re thrilled to receive submissions to the Autism Artists Project. We will continue to search out stories of talented artists with disabilities online, and we hope you will continue to send stories to us as well.)