Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Eyes are the Windows to the Soul

Jimmy Reagan, Study on Eyes - 2009
There is an ancient belief that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Jimmy's images all seem to make interesting statements with their eyes. What the statement actually is, one can only guess. In those with autism, eye contact is often absent. In Jimmy's case of regressive onset autism, he lost his ability to make eye contact.

When Jimmy was about 15 months old, I commissioned a portrait of the then 3 children for Brian for Christmas. The pencil detail of Jimmy in the  Reagan children drawing shown here, illustrates a giggly Jimmy with eyes looking directly at the viewer.  In fact, the artist who created the image of Jimmy commented that he had never drawn a more engaging child than Jimmy -"Jimmy has unbelievable eye contact," the artist remarked. I was so proud of this compliment. Yet, I thought the term "eye contact" was odd. Strangely, I  had never heard the words "eye contact" before. 
Artist drawing of Jimmy Reagan at 15 months
Little did I know, Jimmy would lose his eye contact and engaging smile to then rarely diagnosed autism.  In Jimmy's early 2009 detail study of the eye, the eyes in the study are full of intense emotion.  Perhaps, a longing to communicate or worry of confusion for a task required. 

Mona Lisa with Stars, Oil Pastel on Paper 2011
His study of the eye illustrates that Jimmy chooses to show little detail in the eyes of the many portraits that he has created.  The starkness of ill defined singularly colored eyes has a dramatic impact on his images. When I suggest that he add more detail in the eyes...he almost always ignores me. He is deliberate when creating eyes and it is usually the first part of an image he works on. I always wonder what he is thinking ......

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jimmy, how do you feel? "Are you good?"

Jimmy with WineFest painting, Cafe at Night
Jimmy had his second art show on November 17th, 2011 at
Sunfish Cellars He currently as over thirty pieces on display at Sunfish.  His WineFest painting, CafĂ© at Night, was one of the pieces at the show.  This painting has made appearances at  five separate events this fall.  Jimmy has accompanied the painting on several of these occasions.  He is so different at these events; his movie talk in check, the hopping, jumping and skipping virtually absent and his loud vocalizations are significantly diminished to name a few behavior changes. His motivation to be included is off the charts.  I asked him how he felt about his painting and he responded, "are you good." Jimmy feel good about this painting and all the other works he has completed!  His sense of accomplishment is clear as is his joy when other appreciate his work. Thanks for supporting Jimmy and his art. It makes a difference for him and allows him to more fully be part of his community. His art encourages him to thrive in a way that has been so illusive in the past.  Thank you and happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Look At Me Now!

If you have been reading my blog, you know that Jimmy has been a profoundly ill human being most of his life, plagued by infections, allergies, GI distress and failure to thrive to list a few. I was looking through the photos on my phone the other day and I was stunned by an image of Jimmy that I had saved from January of 2007.  We were in the gastroenterologist's office waiting to be seen when I took the picture thinking he was so thin…..but, was content for the moment….I never knew how long that would last.  Jimmy had been so sick weighing only 62 pounds at this appointment….he had fallen off the growth charts having been in the 50 percentile much of life.  Now, he was almost 14 years old and 62 pounds….what was happening???  He looked more like a seven or eight year old. After diagnosis and treatment for failure to thrive (typical of newborn not a teenager), low growth hormone, GI infections and gastritis, Jimmy began to recover from the illnesses that together removed him from school and the interaction of his friends and our community.  He became an isolated human being.

Some may mistake this for typical behavior of a person with autism. Certainly, an untruth forged by media and old ways of thinking about people with autism. His autism impacts his ability to communicate but not his desire to be loved and love, feel joy, have friend and thrive. His illnesses caused him to isolate himself just as it would for any of us without autism.
In 2007 with the help of U of MN doctors, he slowly began to recover.  He gained 10 pound by April yet still looked gaunt, pale and lifeless.

So much was missing for this human being. Depression and Anxiety were certainly a big part of Jimmy's life having lost more of his language with this last illness.  How frustrating and depressing it must be to be unable to verbalize what you want to say. But, this has been the position Jimmy has been in since he lost his first words at age two.  Who wouldn't be depressed when your ability to communicate is lost…..just ask a stroke patient. With the guidance of his tutor and art instructor, art entered Jimmy's life in 2007.  Although Jimmy has great difficulty with conversation, his art has allowed others to see his potential.  His art speaks for him when words are so hard to find. We all feel good when people appreciate our work.  Jimmy is no different. Art had given him purpose and a new found ability to thrive.

Recently, Jimmy donated a piece to the Miracles for Life Worldwide fundraiser 
This worthy organizations educates and encourages organ and tissue donation.  Jimmy attended the event where he showcased a few pieces as well as donated one. This was a rewarding evening for Jimmy and our family. Jimmy was engaged with many people he didn't know. They congratulated him and told him how much they enjoy his art. This picture taken at the event speaks a thousand words… is a young man who is thriving both physically  and mentally. So, look at me now!