April is Autism Awareness Month, and according to the Autism Society of America, it’s an opportunity to highlight the growing concern and awareness about autism.
The Centers for Disease Control recently released new numbers on the prevalence of autism. One in 68 people nationwide is diagnosed with the disorder; that’s a 30 percent increase in the past two years.
24-year-old Spenser Acker is a young man with autism from Topeka. He was diagnosed when he was about 3 years old, according to his mother Raye Acker.
“The first thing we noticed was the language. He started to talk and then he lost it,” said Raye.
Spenser still has trouble communicating verbally, but he’s found an alternative way to communicate through art.
Raye said, “His art has given him a way to bridge some of the gaps that he has with his language.”
His father Steve Acker says he’s been creating art with chalk on their driveway since he was young.
“I’ve seen him come out here and work on his artwork for two or three hours, stand up and look at it and go inside, come back out and look at it for another 20 minutes, and then go to work at it for another couple hours.”
Steve and Raye say it’s proof that there is more going on inside Spenser than meets the eye.
“He gets his inspiration I think from nature and from every interaction he has, just like every artist,” Raye said. “So he’s no different from any other artist, and sometimes I forget that.”
Spenser’s inspiration comes from his love of the weather.
Raye said, “He started by just drawing marks on the driveway, all the way down, and he said it was rain. He added snow, he added lightning, and then he did hurricanes and tornados.”
That evolved into a patchwork of color, lines, and texture completely filling the driveway.
His mother Raye takes photographs of his work, which they display and sell on Spenser’s website, www.spensers-focus.com.
Both Steve and Raye agree that even though Spenser has trouble speaking, his art says a lot.
“‘I am somebody.’ That’s what it says,” Steve said. “Because a lot of autistic children don’t know how to communicate and be seen like you or I. Because he can’t speak, this is his way of saying, ‘I am somebody. Here I am.’”