Our son, Himal, was only two years old when he was diagnosed with profound, non-verbal autism. Fifteen years later, despite all the unknowns and challenges ahead, we have never felt more hopeful about his future.
As the parent of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), do you feel genuinely optimistic about your child’s future? For too many parents, it seems hope is a rare commodity.
Even as the number of those with ASD grows, school systems, social norms, and the medical community seem unable or unwilling to rise to the challenge of autism’s reality. This leaves us to wonder: What will become of our children? What do they have to look forward to in the years ahead? What is out there to give them a spark of hope?
Himal was constantly sick due to a compromised immune system and a terrible gut. Being non-verbal, he had no way to communicate even basic needs to us and would simply cry and scream for hours in frustration.
However, most terrifying of all for us as parents is that Himal has run away from home twice, and requires around the clock supervision.
Faced with such challenges, where does a family dealing with autism find hope?
Ours came one day in 2010, in the form of a paintbrush…
Despite not being able to hold a fork properly at the time, Himal grabbed the brush from the hand of his mother and started dabbing paint onto the canvas she was working on. Curious to see him take an interest in anything besides videos on his iPad, we pursued this and found him an art teacher.
Started With One Minute
We started small…our first victory being him holding the brush and standing next to the canvas for one minute. Learning was very hard for Himal. We continued to teach him in small increments, reinforcing each gain and building on it. For weeks, there would be no progress, which led to frustration; we almost gave up a few times. After several months, he started painting on canvas, and it gave us our first glimmer of hope!
Combating Therapy Bills
A few years later, as therapy and medical bills piled up (there was no insurance coverage for autism then), we decided to hold a fundraiser showcasing 50 of Himal’s paintings, along with art donated by the people in our community.
We converted his paintings into 1,500 greeting cards, and within two hours, they had sold out. Most of the paintings sold as well. We were thrilled! As for Himal, while he may not have understood what was going on, his face lit up when people complimented him. Imagine the boost this was to his self-esteem: people validating his work!
As parents, the value of helping our special children find activities that tap into both their passions and strengths cannot be overstated. For families dealing with autism, this is where the much-needed hope they’re so hungry for comes from. According to Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” What better light into the darkness of an unknown future is there than creating a work of art and possibly earning one’s own income?
With the success of the fundraiser, we had found another pathway to hope. Himal’s sense of pride, accomplishment, and passion about his art deepened. Each time he finished a painting, he insisted we take a picture of him with it.
The fundraiser also sparked an idea. Could we somehow capture the spirit of the event, while also giving other children with autism, as well as their families, a way to experience the kind of transformation Himal had? Could we help them find hope too?
This is how Zenaviv, a social enterprise, was born. Launched to promote the artistic talent of people impacted by autism, Zenaviv currently promotes eleven artists and counting. Their goal is to improve the self-esteem of these artists by bringing their talent to the world, while simultaneously challenging and changing the perceptions of the general public about those on the spectrum. Artists earn 66 percent of profits from the sale of their art, and the remaining helps to further Zenaviv’s mission.
The heartwarming response from parents of children on the Zenaviv platform has validated the power of the cause. One mother, speaking of her son, says it has “given him a greater sense of satisfaction in his artwork, and consequently made him feel like a more valuable member of society. [He] is a happier person as a result of Zenaviv.”
Thanks to recognition from organizations such as The Washington Post, Woman’s Day, and Four Seasons Hotels, the confidence level of Himal and the other artists has grown by leaps and bounds. They feel a huge sense of accomplishment whenever their art is displayed, sold, or appreciated.
Himal, though 17, is developmentally at age six. He faces several challenges and may never be independent. He is friendly, lovable, and willing to explore new things. He’s not usually very expressive, but when he sees one of his paintings hanging in a local business, the expression on his face is priceless for us as parents. This is how the power of artistic expression has impacted him. For our family, it was the very spark of hope we so desperately needed to forge ahead.
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What you can do
The experiences with Himal and Zenaviv have taught there is always hope. There always is the possibility that things can get better—that you may discover your child has a hidden talent or interest or passion. Maybe he/she is an artist, like Himal, or perhaps a violinist or a swimmer. It may take time to identify the talent but trust your instincts. Be creative and try a few things.
It may not be easy as you try new things, support and encouragement to the individual will go a long way. With enough passion, patience, and perseverance, you may be pleasantly surprised! By nurturing your child’s talent, you will also nurture confidence, social skills, and an overall sense of well-being!
Share your story and this story with your friends and community so we can build a brighter future together! Here at Zenaviv, we dream of a day where all families nurture the strengths of their children and are proud of them and live with hope. Furthermore, we hope the public looks past autism to see the dignity and value of every person. Our vision is to provide recognition, opportunity, and income for every artist with autism.
Earlier, I asked: “What do our children have to look forward to in the years ahead?” The answer to that, of course, depends on us. What are we as parents doing to give them hope? To help them find their passion and purpose? With Zenaviv, our family is sharing one possible pathway to a brighter future.
This article was featured in Issue 92 – Developing Social Skills for Life