The Madison House Autism Foundation does not place emphasis on finding a cure.
Instead, the organization strives to assist and appreciate the adult autism community.
“People with autism are all unique and they all have talents and value to bring to society,” Shannon Doty, MHAF social media and marketing coordinator, said. “They should be recognized.”
“Through Our Eyes,” an event held April 3 at The Universities at Shady Grove, showcased art created by adults within the autism spectrum, not only to promote awareness but acceptance.
MHAF, an organization based out of Rockville, Md., and founded by JaLynn and Dr. Gregory Prince in 2008, provides hope, guidance and effective solutions to help adults with autism and their families. The organization is named after the founders’ 24-year-old son Madison who is on the spectrum.
“There are so few services for adults that are on the autism spectrum,” JaLynn Prince, MHAF president and co-founder said. “There’s very few places for living and very few opportunities for employment. We’re trying to increase the nation’s awareness in that and work with decision makers in Washington.”
The exhibition, hosted by FOX 5’s Sue Palka, presented the paintings and sculptures of 40 artists in the Priddy Library. The gathering auctioned 85 art pieces with prices ranging from $50 to $800.
Michael Malfaro, a 23-year-old artist, said he created his sculpture titled “Finding a Job” using business cards and magnets.
“I was bored in [an] airport so I started picking up little bits and pieces,” Malfaro, of Reading, Pa., said. “It’s kind of fun. It’s a way to pass the time.”
Artist Esther Brokaw, 53, presented her painting titled “Winter Trees,” a piece filled with methodically detailed strokes and rich colors.
Brokaw said she wanted audience members to acknowledge the talents of those on the spectrum.
“The people in the autistic spectrum have great gifts that need to be tapped into,” Brokaw, of southeastern Connecticut, said. “You have to develop their gifts. You have to get them going.”
Brokaw said she has met talented people in the spectrum who dislike the word “cure.”
“They feel like they’re fine just the way they are,” Brokaw said. “Nobody else wants to be cured of their sexual orientation or anything else.”
MHAF also highlighted performance.
Chou Chou Scantlin, a 60-year-old charismatic entertainer and member of the band Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra, performed with elegance and class reminiscent of the 1920s to the ’40s era.
“I’m an autistic woman and I’m a performer,” Scantlin said. “We all need to feel our worth and to express ourselves, whether we are autistic or not.”
Scantlin wore a large pearled necklace, a black two-piece silk suit and sang classics from Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Smile” to Frank Sinatra’s “Too Marvelous For Words.”
Scantlin said she has been a performer since she was four years old.
“I’ve always done the best onstage—not because I’m a wonderful singer,” she said with a smile, “but because I’m able to hold up in the mirror and show you how wonderful you are.”
Scantlin, a native of New Jersey, said she chose to perform at the exhibition because she’s proud of who she is.
“I’m here because I’m happy and I’m autistic,” she said. “People don’t put those two together. They think of it as a tragedy; they think of it as damaged. It’s not. We all have gifts.”
MHAF partnered with the USG to present the art exhibition at the campus, said Maria Lampos, USG program management specialist.
Lampos said the needs of adults within the spectrum are imperative.
“Children get a lot of special services when they’re within the Montgomery County Public School System,” she said. “Once an adult reaches 21 years old, they are out of the system. What happens to them? Where can they thrive?”
MHAF offered audience members a drawing activity, encouraging interaction between the artists and guests. About 250 people attended the three-hour event held Thursday evening, a USG student ambassador said.
“I really like some of the artwork,” graduate student Emily Rueger, majoring in special education, said. “I’ve seen things [artwork], which remind me of Picasso; things, which remind me of impressionism.”
Lorain Santo, a senior majoring in business management and marketing and entrepreneurship, said she enjoyed Scantlin’s performance.
“I love old movies and she just brought me back to that era,” Santo said. “It was really cool.”
Janna Thomsen, an event coordinator and marketing assistant for USG student life, said she learned more about the autism community.
“I learned a lot about how they have more acute senses than the rest of us,” she said. “And that they can maybe convey that through art more. I thought that was really interesting.”
Host Palka, long-time meteorologist for FOX 5, said she personally connected with the exhibition.
“It really touched me because it’s about helping adults with autism,” she said. “I have a nephew who is 17 with autism. This is something we’re really thinking about too—what is the next step for my nephew?”
Palka said the event is valuable to students because today’s generation demonstrates tolerance.
“I love this generation because they tolerate everything and everybody,” she said. “I think you college students are the ones who teach us how to be tolerant. You’re changing the world for us.”
For more information regarding the ongoing April exhibit or the organization visit http://www.madisonhouseautism.org.