This is a post by Beck Miller, mom to 12-year-old Max who has autism. Max was nonverbal until the age of six and learned how to read and write at age 10. He now has his own traveling art show, Insight into the Autistic Mind, that explains what life is like on the spectrum through art and essays. He has even compiled his work into a book, Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism!
I’m Max Miller’s mom, and I would like to tell you about my son who is working hard to better the lives of children who have autism.
My son is on the spectrum. I didn’t seek to have him tested for autism. I actually wanted his hearing tested as I could literally stand in front of him, scream his name and he wouldn’t respond. The County offered free hearing tests. I took Max in and he lost it. Social services were called and without much warning, I was soon sucked into a circling drain of meetings, tests and finally, The Ruling. Max was deemed unteachable and the recommendation was that I surrender him to the State as he would never thrive.
I sat there, surrounded by twelve or more “experts’ who kept talking about how flawed my child was, asking me if I was a drug addict, asking me if I drank during my pregnancy, about our stability at home…I tuned them out and looked into my five-year-old son’s big blue eyes. I saw a spark and I knew that they were wrong.
He would thrive.
Seven years later, my son is sitting at a booth at the Walk for Autism. His art and essays surround him and he talks to each person who comes by, showing his art and telling people about the book he wrote. He is engaged, answering questions and asking for people to sign up for his newsletter. They are enamored with him. He is proud of his work and his advocacy. He looks back at me for reassurance, and I give him the thumbs up, holding back tears as I watch him work the crowd like a pro.
And to think, this day was almost denied to us.
Denial was a regular part of our life due to his disability. He was denied access to education and many childhood delights like field trips, birthday parties and scouting. This is what makes his advocacy so beautiful. This little boy who was denied so much is not bitter. Instead, he wants to make a difference by educating people about what life is like with ASD. He knew that part of the reason why he was denied access to things was that people didn’t really understand what autism was all about. People fear what they do not understand.
Max set out with a mission to use his art and his book to help educate people about what autism was like from the perspective of someone on the spectrum. As he was non-verbal, he remembers his frustration and wants to be the voice for the kids who cannot speak. He wants to make life a little easier for the younger kids on the spectrum, so that way they can play basketball or be on a field trip or even have a friend.
This desire for advocacy was organic. One night, Max approached me about doing a food drive at school and it evolved into a Light it up Blue celebration. Part of this event was Max’s art and essay show called, Insight into the Autistic Mind. He drew pictures about his life with autism and dictated essays to me describing the art and the meaning. The words and pictures were so powerful, that we were asked repeatedly for copies. The result is his book, Hello, My Name is Max and I Have Autism.
Max said that there were no books about him, by someone like him…so he decided he would write one himself.
His work didn’t stop there. An aspiring artist, Max is organizing an art show for kids with ASD called, Youth Artists on the Spectrum: A Celebration of Neurodiversity that will be held next April. His show still tours and he conducts in-services for groups who want to learn more about ASD. He has started a foundation, Blue Ribbon Arts where a portion of his book sales are dedicated to creating a grant for kids with ASD who need help in accessing the arts; supplies, classes, free instrument rental or therapy. The things we couldn’t access due to our financial plight.
Max realized that art saved him. When he couldn’t get the words out, he drew me pictures. It helped him feel better. He still gets stuck and turns to art as a way of self-regulating. He wants to make sure every ASD kid has that moment to create, to play and to be celebrated as just being a kid, who did some art and had a good time doing it.