Long before becoming an accomplished artist – as well as the newest member of our Wings Suite: Empowering Health Challenged Artists and the Art Force MSP Artist of the Month – Devin Wildes and his family started on a long and difficult journey to find his voice.
At the age three, Devin was formally diagnosed with autism. While today autism is far more widely known and understood, in the mid-1990s when Devin was born, much less was known. This is his story of art, family and friends.
From the Start
In a visit to the Art Force Venture Lab, Devin’s mother, AJ Paron-Wildes and Devin himself shared their story in a presentation at our weekly Art Force Academy meeting.
In the presentation, AJ took us back to where it all started – to the day when Devin was born.
“[Devin] was born at 110-percentile…strong and healthy…we were so full of joy as you can imagine.” said AJ at the Art Force Venture Lab. “He was so engaged with us. He had such good eye contact…he sought us out and he was developing right on schedule, speaking and saying words. But then around 15 months, something started happening, and he started pulling away from us.”
“He slowly progressed into the world of autism until he got his diagnosis at age three.”
Filled with questions, the family looked for therapy and answers: “How would his life be? Would he ever be “normal”? Would he ever really love me? Who would ever love him?”
As their journey rounded bends, the family encountered obstacle after obstacle. Working through what seemed like uncontrollable behavior and intractable communications boundaries – not to mention constant hurdles with insurance, therapists, medical procedures, misinformed family and friends, and the list goes on – the family struggled in those early years.
“I think about those days and remember how hard it was for me,” said AJ, “but I realize, the voice that I don’t know is how hard it was for him…to not have any clue what is happening or why it is happening to you is really horrible.”
For a period, Devin’s speech therapists even believed he would never learn to speak after he missed key developmental milestones. Anxiety naturally ensued as the family felt the grinding pressure of time and the need for demonstrating measurable progress.
Friends, Family & Art
As milestone dates came and went without the “necessary” levels of progress, the Paron-Wildes family could’ve lost hope. They could’ve believed Devin would never learn to speak.
Yet through nourishing Devin’s clear artistic talent, words and friendships began to form.
“Thirteen years went by and [Devin’s] behavior improved; he started making progress.” said AJ. “Some of that progress was we saw his interaction with his buddy, Nick… Devin was doing a lot of art, he excelled at art, and Nick would see what Devin would draw and be really intrigued. And that was the spark that connected them.”
Amid the promising signs, AJ and her husband decided to have another child. With the birth of Devin’s little sister, Ava, “as soon as she could start to walk, the language out of Devin just shot out.”
“To the point where I thought there was a stranger in my house sometimes. I’m like, ‘who’s talking? Who’s talking in my house?”
The Power of Pride
As relationships took root and Devin found his voice, his art continued to blossom and bloom.
The more Devin created art, the more he developed his sense of self and more importantly, self-worth.
“When he started doing art, the one thing we noticed was that he was really in his own skin. He started to seek out our approval… He would come and go, ‘Look! Look what I made!’ And you could see the joy in his face where he was looking for your interaction. He was looking for your acceptance. He was looking for your commentary and he had never done that before. Ever! And so we started putting him in more art classes and doing more art things. And you can see in this picture here with the stool he made that pride that is resonating throughout his body even.”
We are proud to finish 2016 with this inspiring story and thank AJ and Devin for letting us be part of their ongoing journey. For more on Devin and AJ, please visit Devin’s Story (if you haven’t already!) where you can purchase his work.
As part of our ongoing commitment to Art Force MSP, a portion of artwork sales will benefit a charity of AJ and Devin’s choosing. Please help us set sight on the next great journey! Happy Holidays from everyone at Art Force and many thanks to AJ and Devin once again.