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Calls to Action

Heart of Autism: Painting for the Autism Community

We love hearing stories from family and friends, through emails and in the news, about the generosity shown by so many to our loved ones with autism. But the stories that touch us the most are perhaps the ones we hear about the least: stories about people with autism helping other people with autism. We know that individuals on the spectrum are often willing and able to help their peers, and their efforts are frequent and widespread. Sometimes we hear about this generosity in the role of advocates such as Temple Grandin, who use their communicative abilities to advocate for the needs and perspective of others who might not be so verbal. But there are many ways to help others. Autism Speaks is excited to announce Heart of Autism, a new series that highlights the work of these kind and compassionate individuals who give back to the autism community as well.

Tyler Bell is a perfect example. Tyler is a 20-year-old accomplished artist from central New Jersey, and an engaged member of his local community. At a young age, Tyler started showing an interest in identifying and mixing colors, which in turn developed into a love of watercolors. By middle school, painting had become one of his preferred free time choices and his paintings papered the walls of his classroom. It was after a person-centered planning session in high school that his team pushed for more structured painting time as a possible job or leisure skill exploration. Tyler’s parents found a local artist who was willing to paint with him. He quickly began to love heading into a studio and painting with an instructor who soon became both a mentor and a friend.

Painting often serves an escape for Tyler—a place to relax and express himself with very little pressure. It didn’t take long for his favorite hobby to develop into something more. His first sale was a watercolor of a boat that was donated for an auction in Los Angeles ten years ago, when he was only 10!  His second sale was a large acrylic painting he donated to an autism fundraiser at Carnegie Hall.  At the event, a young girl in a pink dress said, "Daddy, this is the one I love," as she pointed at Tyler’s painting. Tyler’s mom Liz recalled this moment as “magical,” as she realized that “there was a voice inside this young man that comes out through his paintings, if so seldom through his words.” Not long after, Tyler held his first art show and raised close to $4,000 in one day for the local education foundation. Many of the buyers were friends and family who had watched him grow and develop over the years. “I feel proud,” Tyler told his parents when asked about seeing his art on display.

Today, Tyler’s paintings cover more than just the walls of the Bell’s home in New Jersey. Many of Tyler's paintings hang in various retail and restaurant establishments within their community. Recently, three paintings sold off the walls of a local restaurant, and another was sold to an Autism Speaks volunteer who saw the beautiful paintings online. Tyler’s sales came to a total of $1,170. While most young men his age would head straight to a video game shop, the closest Nike store, or Amazon.com, Tyler so generously donated his sales to AutismCares, a grant program at Autism Speaks that helps individuals with autism and their families affected by financial difficulties or natural disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, Tyler’s family was without power, water and heat for several days, so AutismCares was a very natural place for his donation when he learned that life did not return to normal for everyone so quickly. The proceeds from Tyler’s art will go toward providing food, clothing or shelter to families who experienced dramatic or lasting effects of the storm.

Tyler is an extraordinary young man. All of us at Autism Speaks are very proud to have him as part of our family. We are so pleased to share his inspiring story with our community. He is a wonderful example of how individuals on the spectrum can use their talents and skills and so generously give back to their communities.

If you want to learn more about Tyler and see his beautiful artwork, visit his website Something to Say Art at www.somethingtosayart.com

If you would like to highlight an individual with autism for our Heart of Autism series, email us at heartofautism@autismspeaks.org. We would love to hear from you!