There are so many answers. I could talk about my son. I could tell you about my day to day experiences with a five-year-old little boy with big brown eyes and a beautiful smile. I could also tell you about his struggles to communicate. And how far he has come in the past four years.
Instead, I'm going to tell you what autism means to me as an artist.
I don't think autism is a puzzle piece. I think Autism is a Masterpiece.
Let me explain.
For almost two years now, I've been making artwork about kids on the autism spectrum.
When I'm trying to create a new print about a person, I do everything I can to capture their personality. I find out what they like to do. If possible, I meet them in person--several times. I know what you are thinking--that spending such a short amount of time with a person doesn't really allow me to see what they are really like. But children, especially autistic children, are honest and open. They don't try to hide who they are. I LOVE THAT ABOUT THEM.
Every single child (and adult, for that matter) that I have met, is unique.
Sure, some of them do some of the same things, like line up their toys or play with the wheels of cars. But some like pizza. And some only eat dry, crunchy foods (like my son). Some love water (swimming, baths, sprinklers, etc.) and others can't stand to be wet.
If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism. It's true.
I don't know how my son's mind works. But this is how mine works: I see the world in color. Everything is a painting. Everything is beautiful, if I look at it the right way.
If you shine white light through a prism, it refracts and separates the light into seven colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Every single color is important. Every single color is beautiful. But, in order to make a rainbow, you need all of the colors.
I tend to think about people in the same way. We are rainbows. We all have different aspects of our personalities that make us who we are. Give each of those traits a color--for example, say that "compassionate" is the color pink. And "patience" is the color blue. "Determination" is red. I think about all of this when I am working on a portrait. I ask myself, "What colors should I use?" to accurately capture someone's personality. I usually end up using a lot of colors. And since I'm a printmaker, I can even create new colors just by overlapping the layers.
And then I try to do the impossible: I use all the colors of the rainbow to recreate a 3-dimensional, living person on a 2-dimensional piece of paper.
I have not created a masterpiece yet. It is an elusive goal, that I will never reach because I consider the person to be the masterpiece.
In a way, I'm like the artists in the past who studied and copied the works of the Old Masters. They did it to learn from the best.
So do I.
Through art, I can show the world what autism really is. I can give names and faces to the numbers. I can show the world how I see autism: as a beautiful, colorful masterpiece.