"There's always that one person that tells you, 'You're not good enough.' But you are. Keep on doing what you love."
This powerful advice comes from Amanda LaMunyon, a sixteen-year-old from Oklahoma who is hoping to change the way people perceive disabilities through her original artwork.
When Amanda was in elementary school, she had trouble concentrating and couldn't sit still in class. She had difficulty relating to her peers and struggled to stay focused on her daily activities. "I knew the rules in school but I just couldn't apply them, and I could never adapt social skills when I tried to communicate with my classmates."
Despite her struggles in school, there was one thing that helped Amanda relax and helped her express all the emotions that she couldn't convey to her teachers, friends and family. "When I put a paintbrush in my hands for the first time, I instantly felt my life change. I could finally focus without getting distracted and my paintings helped me convey everything I had difficulty expressing."
When Amanda was eight years old, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a condition that helped explain the difficulties she had experienced in school. After learning of her diagnosis, Amanda's painting hobby turned into an outlet that connected her with the people that had misunderstood her throughout her childhood.
"Learning I had Asperger's helped me come to terms with what I was doing, and made me all the more passionate to exercise my talents with painting. I always wanted my artwork to be enjoyed, but hearing about how I had Asperger's, like so many other kids in the world, I wanted my artwork to mean something and help other people."
Through her painting, Amanda has dedicated herself to increasing awareness around autism and other sensory disorders like Asperger's. Amanda's artwork is available for purchase online - http://amandalamunyon.com/ - and she donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations that are striving to improve the lives of children with autism like Children's Hospital Foundation and Children's Miracle Network. In addition, Amanda has participated in fundraisers for organizations including Autism Speaks, The Lili Claire Foundation and Autism Society.
In 2010, Amanda was selected as a finalist in the All Kids Can CREATE campaign with our partner VSA and traveled to Washington, D.C. to have her artwork displayed in a national exhibition. "Visiting D.C. was an absolute privilege. It was a humbling experience to meet other amazing young artists that never let their disabilities become an obstacle for them and the trip really opened a lot of doors for me to introduce my artwork to the world."
Since traveling to Washington, D.C. with All Kids Can CREATE, Amanda has gained notoriety in the art world, having pieces displayed in galleries like the Salmagundi Club and Carnegie Hall in New York City.
"It's safe to say my life has changed a lot since I've started painting. My artwork has given me a lot of opportunities to help other kids like me. Even though I have trouble socially, I really do have a talent. Not only do I want to raise money for autism-related research, I want to change the way people view autism, from a disability to an ability. And I want to help encourage other kids to find their own abilities, regardless of whether they have a disorder."
To learn more about our All Kids Can CREATE campaign and to submit original artwork, please visit http://www.artsonia.com/allkidscan. Artwork submitted before the April 8, 2012 deadline will be considered for display in the "What Inspires Me" exhibition debuting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. in August 2012.