Autism is one such condition. Siri is a talented young lady among thousands with this condition. We sat down with Siri’s mom to find out more about her daughter’s talent, lifestyle, achievements and future.
-When did you first realize that Siri had the talent for designing jewelry?
I would say Siri is more of a maker than a designer. It was fall of 2014. Siri had just turned 22 and graduated from the school system. She was staying at home as we could not find a suitable day program for her. I wanted to keep her busy with things to do at home and outside. That year her younger brother joined the Army and left home. I wanted to send some care packages (self-care essentials like lip balm, Q tips etc.) for the young men and women training in the Army. Siri loves shopping. I would take Siri out shopping to purchase items to prepare the care packages and took her help in putting them together in boxes. She thoroughly enjoyed the shopping part and the putting together part. She would write (copy) some encouraging messages and place them in the boxes. When she would get a response back, she would feel happy. This became a daily routine and Siri became very efficient at it. Once the Army training period was over, I started exploring other things for her to do. Jewelry making was one of them. Since she likes to wear fancy jewelry. We started with simple designs and soon realized that she could do more complex work, after watching jewelry making videos on YouTube. I would lay various patterns and Siri would pick the one she liked and make it and wear it. Once she started getting efficient at it, she would make many pieces a day. We had to give away a lot of her work, to keep the flow going and keep her busy. She started to enjoy the accolades she received when she gifted these pieces to others. This boosted her confidence and self-esteem.
-How does she use art and design to communicate and express herself?
Siri is a patient person. We realized that she can work for long hours. When she is focused and interested. She also realized that we are very appreciative of her after she gets the work done. Working with her and connecting in a shared activity was new to me, which I was never able to do with her in the past. She feels very accomplished. Siri is a very caring person. She likes to be around people for a short periods during social gatherings. She likes the social connection, but is minimally verbal and with echolalia, cannot communicate well. As you may already know, there are not many genuine opportunities for people with autism to interact with regular people. We started displaying her jewelry at various events. She would make customized items for people who came to see & buy her jewelry. What we realized was that when she is showing and making the jewelry, all her unwanted behaviors would subside. At one such event, she was called on to the stage to receive an award. We were very nervous about her going up and standing in front of a crowd. She has had some physical outbursts in the past. But when she was on stage we saw a drastic change in her personality. She became very calm, looking at people and cameras with a broad, confident smile.
-Tell us about the impact Siri has had on the autism community with her talent and skills as a designer.
The autism community loves Siri and her work. She has received tremendous support and encouragement. Starting from the school where she graduated (Wings Learning Center), the non-profit that supported her initial work (De Colores Arts), the day program she goes to (Oasis Day Program) and the Autism Society of America – they were all very supportive of her and her business. We get a lot of emails and messages from parents about her work, which hope for their children affected with autism. They look up to her as a role model and the potential that these kids have for a brighter future. Last year we started training 6 other kids with autism and related developmental disabilities to make some simple jewelry like bracelets. They come to our home and learn how to do it. We prepare the material in packets for them to take home and work on. They bring back finished items and get rewarded. The parents love this as it gives their children a productive activity that they enjoy doing. We donate or sometimes sell these items at various events to raise awareness and shine a light on this work.
-What advice do you have for parents within the autism community when it comes to incorporating and encouraging art and design into their child’s daily routine?
I look at it as a creative and productive activity, which can benefit the individual and the society. We were fortunate to find something that Siri loves doing and has a value in the society. Our advice to parents is: 1. Try different things, based on the child’s interests. It can be a long process and will involve trial and error. 2. Start sooner rather than later. No need to wait until they are adults. 3. Do not underestimate your child’s abilities. When it clicks, you will be surprised!
-What do you think Siri’s future holds for now that she has this skill and outlet as a jewelry designer?
I think Siri’s future is very bright. She has a lot of potential. She wants to learn more. We want to expand this business to involve a lot more folks on the spectrum. We now have regular customers that want to display and sell her jewelry in their gift shops. We expect to expand our outreach and operations this year. Siri and her ‘friends’ at Designs By Siri would like to thank you for helping them in this exciting journey!