It’s an all-too familiar scenario:
- Family welcomes new baby into the household
- Baby grows well physically, mentally and emotionally
- Baby turns into a happy, loving toddler
- And then, something happens.
That “something” is a diagnosis of autism. Then, the world as the family knew it is gone.
This is what happened to the Crowe family after son Taylor, a happy, verbal, well-adjusted toddler, began to change into a mostly silent, withdrawn and frequently inconsolable child. After seeing doctor after doctor, they finally received the autism diagnosis from a psychiatrist. He painted a bleak picture of what Taylor’s life would become, suggesting that they consider institutionalizing him when he was older. David Crowe, Taylor’s father, said of the assessment, “No parent should have to hear that about their child.”
Compounding the difficulty the Crowe’s had in grasping the situation was the lack of information on autism. Today we take for granted that we can jump on the Internet and find any number of resources, books, blogs and educational pieces about autism. But Taylor was diagnosed in 1985. Crowe said he spent about a year after Taylor’s diagnosis simply looking for an adult with autism to better understand Taylor’s future. He couldn’t find one.
Not willing to give up, the Crowe’s took an unusual step in advocating for their son. They enlisted the help of other families with children Taylor’s age to befriend him. “We were told he wouldn’t be comfortable around peers or interact socially,” said Crowe. “We early on started with children of friends. We explained to the kids that Taylor was a child like them, but that he might not be able to do everything they could do.” Taylor’s world expanded with the inclusion of these new friends, who helped teach him how to be a child again. Crowe added that it wasn’t always easy for these children, but they were patient and understanding with Taylor – and this was in kindergarten.
The advocacy didn’t stop there. Crowe continued to champion for his son, helping the special education and regular classroom teachers determine when it would be best for Taylor to participate with the other kids in his grade. As Taylor aged, having friends became an even bigger necessity. Before he entered fifth grade, Crowe again appealed to the parents of children in Taylor’s grade asking that they talk with their kids about being a friend to Taylor. The reason for this was twofold: 1) to continue to develop Taylor’s social skills and 2) give him a circle of friends who would be able to shield him from the kids who might make fun of or torment Taylor because he was different. It worked. Taylor’s newfound “rock star” status changed the complexion of the entire fifth grade that year, which carried forward in each subsequent year.
At a young age, Taylor’s artistic talent was already evident. This became the perfect backdrop for Taylor to continue developing his social skills. Crowe hired an art tutor to give direction, guidance and hone Taylor’s creative talents. Instead of staying at home, however, Crowe requested the tutor take Taylor into public spaces to work. The goal was for Taylor to engage others in conversations about his art. “[Taylor] was so easily overwhelmed by conversations,” said Crowe. “But he could talk about art; he was interested in it, ask questions about it, etc.” The results were more than Crowe could have hoped for. Having Taylor out in the community doing his art not only improved his talents. “The side effect was a bunch of fans in the community who knew him and what he was capable of,” said Crowe.
Taylor would later attend the prestigious California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Admission is highly competitive and based mainly on demonstrated talent, creativity and commitment. Taylor was admitted on the first try despite his autism, not because of it. Today, at age 30, he spends his time creating his art, as well as advocating and educating others about living with autism. He is a highly sought after speaker whose straight-from-the-heart talks give listeners insight into what it’s like living with autism. Had Crowe listened to the psychiatrist so many years ago, Taylor would likely never have rediscovered his voice through his art – and we would be poorer for that.
Discover Taylor Crowe’s art for yourself. Visit his website at TaylorCrowe.com.