Saturday, March 24, 2012

16-year-old Girl with Asperger's Focuses on Painting to Express Herself

This is a great story that caught my attention, especially since Amanda is from my home state of Oklahoma, and if her art is selected, it will be exhibited in my current backyard at the MLK Library in DC. :)

Amanda LaMunyon: 

Teenage Artist With Autism Paints Brilliant Nature Scenes


Amanda LaMunyon, a talented 16-year-old artist, has Asperger's Syndrome. Instead of being a setback, however, this allows her to concentrate on her painting. Two years ago, Amanda was a finalist in CVS's "All Kids Can Create" contest, which puts a spotlight on creative kids around the country. The young, Oklahoma-based artist writes on the "CVS Caremark All Kids Can" website, "When I put a paintbrush in my hands for the first time, I instantly felt my life change. I could finally focus without getting distracted and my paintings helped me convey everything I had difficulty expressing,"

At only 12 years old, Amanda addressed the United Nations during World Autism Awareness Day. She delivered a poem, "A Little Secret," which she wrote herself. (She speaks around the three minute mark in the video below.) Looking very self composed despite her young age, the precocious artist reveals, "She is very well meaning, but frequently misunderstood." This can be a common complaint among those living and dealing with people who are autistic; at times, it seems they are living in their own world. But this doesn't get Amanda down; instead, it motivates her to create bridges between people. She writes on her website, "I hope to continue to share my art and my story of overcoming challenges."

We interviewed Amanda about her work, and her responses are below.

HuffPost Arts: How did you first develop an interest in art?
AL: I first developed an interest in art and painting when I was about seven years old. I couldn't stay focused, so my parents thought it was a good idea to have an outlet. They looked up art lessons, and I took my first lesson with my teacher, and after my first lesson she said, "I think this girl can paint;" I've been painting ever since.

HuffPost Arts: Have you kept in touch with this teacher?
Yes, she's a very dear friend of the family. We just love her.

HuffPost Arts: Are there any artists who have inspired you?
I like Monet, Van Gogh, the French Impressionists. I definitely consider myself an Impressionist artist so I enjoy that type of work more.

HuffPost Arts: Do you prefer to do landscapes?
It varies. I like doing anything with nature, whether it's landscapes or animals.

HuffPost Arts: What kind of museums do you like in Oklahoma?
We don't have that many art museums here, but I've been the OKC Museum and the Tulsa one.

HuffPost Arts: Were you ever able to see Impressionist work up close?
I was able to see Monets, yes. Whenever I know there's a piece of Impressionist work [I tell my parents], "We're going to this museum!"

HuffPost Arts: Are either of your parents artistic?
Not much. I believe I was born with the ability; I just had to acquire it.

HuffPost Arts: What do you want to do in the next few years?
Painting is my life now. I want to get a degree in graphic art and painting [and] I want to do more work with charities.

See a slideshow of Amanda's work below, and let us know if you've ever found solace in art in the comments section.

If you'd like to participate in "All Kids Can," please submit your or your child's artwork before April 8, 2012 here, and it will be featured in an online gallery. In addition, the artwork submitted could be chosen for display in the “What Inspires Me” exhibition this August in Washington, D.C. at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. 

Painting to Make a Difference


"There's always that one person that tells you, 'You're not good enough.' But you are. Keep on doing what you love."
This powerful advice comes from Amanda LaMunyon, a sixteen-year-old from Oklahoma who is hoping to change the way people perceive disabilities through her original artwork.

When Amanda was in elementary school, she had trouble concentrating and couldn't sit still in class.  She had difficulty relating to her peers and struggled to stay focused on her daily activities.  "I knew the rules in school but I just couldn't apply them, and I could never adapt social skills when I tried to communicate with my classmates."

Despite her struggles in school, there was one thing that helped Amanda relax and helped her express all the emotions that she couldn't convey to her teachers, friends and family.  "When I put a paintbrush in my hands for the first time, I instantly felt my life change.  I could finally focus without getting distracted and my paintings helped me convey everything I had difficulty expressing."

When Amanda was eight years old, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a condition that helped explain the difficulties she had experienced in school.  After learning of her diagnosis, Amanda's painting hobby turned into an outlet that connected her with the people that had misunderstood her throughout her childhood.

"Learning I had Asperger's helped me come to terms with what I was doing, and made me all the more passionate to exercise my talents with painting.  I always wanted my artwork to be enjoyed, but hearing about how I had Asperger's, like so many other kids in the world, I wanted my artwork to mean something and help other people."

Through her painting, Amanda has dedicated herself to increasing awareness around autism and other sensory disorders like Asperger's. Amanda's artwork is available for purchase online - http://amandalamunyon.com/ - and she donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations that are striving to improve the lives of children with autism like Children's Hospital Foundation and Children's Miracle Network.  In addition, Amanda has participated in fundraisers for organizations including Autism Speaks, The Lili Claire Foundation and Autism Society.

In 2010, Amanda was selected as a finalist in the All Kids Can CREATE campaign with our partner VSA and traveled to Washington, D.C. to have her artwork displayed in a national exhibition.  "Visiting D.C. was an absolute privilege.  It was a humbling experience to meet other amazing young artists that never let their disabilities become an obstacle for them and the trip really opened a lot of doors for me to introduce my artwork to the world."

Since traveling to Washington, D.C. with All Kids Can CREATE, Amanda has gained notoriety in the art world, having pieces displayed in galleries like the Salmagundi Club and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

"It's safe to say my life has changed a lot since I've started painting.  My artwork has given me a lot of opportunities to help other kids like me.  Even though I have trouble socially, I really do have a talent.  Not only do I want to raise money for autism-related research, I want to change the way people view autism, from a disability to an ability. And I want to help encourage other kids to find their own abilities, regardless of whether they have a disorder."

To learn more about our All Kids Can CREATE campaign and to submit original artwork, please visit http://www.artsonia.com/allkidscan. Artwork submitted before the April 8, 2012 deadline will be considered for display in the "What Inspires Me" exhibition debuting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. in August 2012.

View Amanda here presenting her poem at an art exhibition "Don't Dis the Ability," showing artwork from people diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. The introduction for Amanda starts around 2:29.

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