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Young man with autism finds his calling in dog shows and art

This guest blog post is written by Tanis Baldwin. Tanis' son, Alec, is a dog trainer/ handler, painter, musician and athlete. He also happens to have autism.

Alec and his art teacher

When he was 2 ½ years old, the prediction from the professionals was that at age 18, he would have a photo album and be able to point to pictures to tell people what he wanted. People believe individuals with autism have no empathy, don’t think, care or want to be around people, and friendships aren’t important.  More judgements and false beliefs.

Wonderful things are happening in Alec’s life due to years of believing “there is always a way” and working through the challenges and roadblocks autism have presented. Most recently, Alec was offered the opportunity to do the artwork for the National Dog Show presented by Purina, earning him a commission and VIP tickets to the 2017 show in Philadelphia.

How did this come about?

Alec loves dogs. He found out about dog shows by watching them on TV. He started going to Junior Handling classes. From there, he became an owner and handler to a pure bred beagle named Shiloh. His love of dogs became a gateway for another creative outlet. He began drawing dogs, self-taught from a basic “How to Draw Dogs” book.  He went to art camp and met a professional artist/ teacher who lived in Winnipeg.  Alec started taking private lessons with Guy St. Godard and then some group classes. He started with watercolor pencils and painted 200 pictures of dogs, giving them away to their owners. Alec then learned to paint with watercolor and acrylic. He gave his paintings away to individuals as well as The Beagle Club of Western Canada to help with fundraising. He went to the Westminster Dog Show in New York to continue to give away paintings to dog owner/ handlers.

Alec loves to give his paintings to those who are as passionate about dogs and dog shows as he is. The paintings he shares with people are a way for him to connect with those around him because just like you and I, he longs for a friend, a connection. He loves the world of dogs and dog shows and all the people in it. Although disappointed when his dog didn’t win in shows, he was and continues to be the first to congratulate the winners.

This year, something wonderful happened to Alec, and that wonderful event occurred because of a mutual kindness and generosity. Alec will meet the president of the National Dog Show, Wayne Ferguson.

Alec painted a 40” x 60” painting, a night scene on a beach with mountains in the background, lanterns in the sky and 35 champion dogs. He won best acrylic painting at the local festival art show. He wanted to share that with Wayne, a person he has never met but admired from afar…something all of us do. He made a poster of his painting and mailed it to Wayne. Wayne phoned Alec to thank him and told Alec how much he loved it and was framing it and putting it in his office. Wayne walked that bridge and connected with Alec. He then ordered another poster for his friend Kathy Carson, CEO of Carson Industries who produce the National Dog Show. She loved the poster too.  They offered Alec the opportunity to do the artwork for the 2017 show. Wayne is sending Alec and his family VIP tickets to the show.  Although Alec was paid for his painting, the real reward for Alec is being a part of the show, being about to meet Wayne Ferguson and talk to him. When Wayne received a draft of the program with Alec’s painting on the cover, he phoned Alec again to tell him how much he loved it. 

Alec is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. He doesn’t judge people but he is judged because he struggles with communicating. He can talk really well but sometimes the meaning of what he trying to express comes out wrong and needs clarifying. It’s like being in another country speaking a different language; you can get it wrong sometimes.

Because of his persistence, hard work and giving nature, he will be flying to Philadelphia Nov 17th to watch the National Dog Show as a VIP, see his painting be part of the show, and meet a new friend…Wayne Ferguson, another person who loves dogs as much as he does. Alec’s motto in life is “Keep Moving Forward”. That motto has served him well.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.