April Griffin is an Autistic artist who began working with oil paints and winning adult competitions at the age of eight. She recently came equal third in ‘Visual Arts’ at the International Autistic Achievement Awards representing Canada, tying with her friend, Silke Heyer of Germany. In 2014 April will be serving as Canada's Ambassador at the awards in Scotland.
I was labelled a wild child with problem behaviour. I screamed when people tried to dress me because the fabric or laundry soap used on it hurt my sin. I hit myself, I raked my nails across my face, bit, banged my head into walls, trashed my room and classrooms, I ate things I should not, I felt sounds, fluorescent lights made me sick and, at one point, they thought I was deaf because I would not respond to my name.
I had over 200 allergies and had been through test after test to determine what was making me so sensitive. Special diets and medication were tried. I refused to speak or I talked too much. I would never talk to certain people, including every doctor my family tried at the hospital. I did speak to a social worker and she became the communicator between myself and the people who wanted me to keep writing tests.
I was called a lot of things back then including retarded by my grade one school and later a genius. I could paint but my written work was so messy I failed every subject. I was kicked out of Algebra and put into "rubber math" and "rubber reading" despite a documented above average IQ and reading at a college level. My IQ meant I was seen as bad because my sensitivities made me difficult.
At the time I started painting with oils, my family made frequent trips to the University of Saskatoon where I would go through a door that had a sign on it which said "Psychological Research". I would not be diagnosed until I was 36.
Sometimes I did rebel in my own ways. I have done all the psychology and intelligence and aptitude tests. I got bored so sometimes instead of writing their tests I checked the answers in this order A) - C)- D)- C). ACDC! It was my rebellion. I did not care about the tests anymore and I doubted they would notice. I stopped caring about what I scored. I did not know what they thought was wrong with me and I spent a lot of time worrying about that.
My parents tried different things to help me. Video games for hand eye coordination, dogs and horses for bonding. I had my own herd of goats. My family believes work is good for you. I did sports too and that made me much less clumsy. What helped the most was when my Aunt Margret Rupert, from Codette, came over for coffee.
She was a 78-year-old eccentric painter and after watching me drawing the objects around the living room, she told my Mother, "April is an Artist. When she is 10 bring her to me."
I was a very lonely girl and so excited that an artist was going to teach me to paint. I had dreams about us painting together side by side. I felt that was how it would happen. I knocked on her door every couple days with new drawings."
Aunt Margret will you teach me to paint now? Look I have been practicing." She did not really want to deal with a kid that young but I pestered her relentlessly so by the time I was eight and a half we had begun and I had turned out a series of oil paintings.
By the time I was 10 I had won an arts scholarship through competition that I was too young to accept. I failed art at school.
Aunt Margret had me draw an apple. I did. Drawing lessons were over. We went right to the paint. She showed me how to mix my paints. I just know how to mix colour; it’s something I always understood so I did not use colour wheels.
I do not have to think about colour theory and I can colour match when mixing. That is something I just know. I don't need to think – it’s instinct.
My Mom and Dad bought me anything I wanted for my art. I taught myself after that with help from mentors, more experienced artists who adopt me and guide me along to help me learn. They taught me about gallery contracts and gave me business advice and new techniques. It has helped me become independent.
Today I own my own home. It’s fully paid for. I have a small art studio and I do photography, painting, web design, knitting, jewelry and I have 47 raised garden beds and a worm farm. I have always used my talents to mask my disabilities. Though I prefer the term ‘different set of abilities’. Employers cater to my needs because I can do jobs no one else can do. I am a serious believer in talent development. To find our talents we must be exposed to them.
Our specialist skills can open doors for us and make a place for us in the community. I know I am an odd duck. I knew I had to work harder to keep my jobs because of it. I really continue to work on developing my talents and my kids’ talents.I use my art to help create autism awareness. I hope it will help people look at autism in a positive light. I want them to consider potential in a differently wired mind and employing our specialist skill sets. It was an incredibly long, hard road to diagnosis for me; I want to see that change for others.
I do not want to see any more gifted children labelled as misfits. I want to the next generation to have an easier time fitting in and living in a world of acceptance. I often fund-raise for talent related autistic causes. I participate in Artists and Autism, The Art of Autism, and I am an ANCA Ambassador. I have had the opportunity to solo exhibit in my hometown of Nipawin to raise Autism Awareness. A neighbouring village, Aylsham, Saskatchewan, held a Craft and Trade Show and Market which was organised by my good friend, Shirley Chancellor, who is a friend to the autistic community. She asked me for a good way to raise money. I have raised funds to supply an autistic artist so they can have mentoring. I suggested that happen again so it is going to Nipawin Autism Spectrum Disorders Services, which provides services to more than 80 local children and it will be used to get more kids what they need to be ready for mentoring. I believe in these kinds of grass roots efforts.
I am not waiting for government to catch up. We need to support our autism workers and support our children's talents. Art Classes. Music. Drama. Computers, whatever the talent is support it. We need to develop talents early. They are the key to the puzzle everyone is talking about.
"I do not want to see any more gifted children labelled as misfits"