Artist Treats Autism as a Gift

autistic painter

Upon receiving their diagnosis, many people with autism might not know what to think about it.

But a man from Kent, Washington treats his condition not as a setback, but as a gift.

Michael Tolleson did not know he could paint until three years ago, when he picked up a brush on a whim. This came at the same time he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism spectrum disorder.

Painting, he says, is a way to isolate himself from the chaos of the outside world. For him, it’s a “vacation…from [him]self.”

Over the past three years, he has produced more than 600 paintings, all of which are completed in less than an hour. He sells his paintings for thousands of dollars apiece across the globe.

He credits his talent to having ASD, calling himself a “Savant Artist.” After discovering his talent, he wanted to take the opportunity not just to share it, but to “give hope” and inspire other people.

And that’s exactly what Tolleson is doing. His gallery in Kent doubles as a workshop for young people along the autism spectrum. For instance, 21 year old Michael Sorenson had trouble communicating his basic needs to family, like telling them that he is hungry or has to use the bathroom.

But after immersing himself in art, his communication skills have improved dramatically. According to his mother, Linda, he is much more communicative and cheerful.

This joy is what Tolleson hopes to inspire in others. Since he started painting, Tolleson has become an international advocate for autism awareness.

“Most people are thinking about retirement at my age,” he says. “I can’t retire. I have to share this.” 

His primary mission is to show families that autism does not necessarily mean a life of limitations. He wants to show the world that their children are much more capable than they realize.

You can find Tolleson’s work here.

Written by Nina Bergold