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How Artists With Autism Began Uniting And Empowering Creatives On The Autism Spectrum

by Caitlin Ostroff October 2015

How Artists With Autism Began Uniting And Empowering Creatives On The Autism Spectrum

Her son’s passion for drawing inspired Cynthia Drucker to start Artists With Autism—a Deerfield Beach-based non-profit that unites and empowers aspiring artists on the autism spectrum.

It all started when Cynthia Drucker handed her son, Brandon, colored pencils and a postcard. The Christmas card he drew at that young age led to a lifelong passion that has shaped both of their lives.

Brandon, 24, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. As a child, he didn’t speak, but his mom often found him drawing. He would communicate through drawings, using positive or negative images to describe a day at school, Cynthia says.

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Brandon’s powerful images encouraged Cynthia, 53, to start Artists With Autism. The non-profit gives artists on the autism spectrum a platform to share and sell their art—turning their passion for drawing, painting or even sculpting into a business.

Since she founded the organization in 2010, it has grown from four founding members selling pieces at farmers markets and church bazaars to 13 local artists who work and sell out of a permanent store at Pompano Beach’s Festival Flea Market. Pieces for sale include illustrations of a bright red barn in an empty farm field; a pink, fluffy cherry blossom tree; and an abstract purple and teal bird.

“Our mission is to educate artists on the autism spectrum to have their own business,” Cynthia says.

The artists, who range between 18 and 28 years old, create artwork that is sold as paintings, tote bags and even dresses. Brandon often sells pieces of his artwork that depict animals and nature scenes. Mentors, who are grandparents, retired teachers and professional artists, come into the store to teach art and business skills to the aspiring artists.

Cynthia says she used to insist that an adult volunteer be at the store during operating hours. But one day, one of the volunteers never showed up to help Brandon at the store. “After I had a small panic attack, I realized he was fine,” Cynthia says.

Now it is common for members to run the store alone.

Pieces sell for $20 to $150. Ten percent of profits from those sales go to Artists With Autism, and the artists keep the rest. Many of the artists have learned that the best way to make a sale is to create art that the community wants, even if it’s not what they artistically want to create. They have to remember the customer, Cynthia says. Plus, she adds, they love making a sale.

For Cynthia, her favorite part about running the non-profit is seeing the artists grow—from improved communication skills to greater independence. “Every day is a learning experience,” she says.

When Brandon was 18, he couldn’t start a conversation, Cynthia says. Today, you’d never suspect this after talking to him.

He’s self-published three books and is about to publish a nine-volume comic book series. “Now he has met many people; now he has something to talk about,” she says.

In the future, she wants to expand Artists With Autism to help other families with children on the spectrum realize that there is hope. She says she would like to have more galleries and a vocational training center.

Cynthia is encouraging other parents of children with autism to look beyond the disorder: “Focus on the talents, and their talents will overshadow their deficits,” she says.

To learn more about Artists With Autism, visit Facebook.com/ArtistsWithAutism.

To view and purchase artwork, visit fineartamerica.com/profiles/cynthia-drucker.html.