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Boy with autism finds unique way to communicate through drawings

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY — When Garrett was a toddler, his mom noticed that, developmentally, something was off. When he was a year old, Garrett wasn't reaching for or pointing at things he wanted. At an age when most kids were starting to talk, Garrett wasn't trying to form words.

"He'd cry and he'd get frustrated and then he would hit himself and bite himself or bite me and bite others, and I think just because of that frustration of language, communication and understanding," his mother, April Giauque, said.

Eventually Garrett was diagnosed with autism, a disorder characterized by impaired communication and social skills. He got help and learned to "attend," to keep his body calm and his hands and feet still.

Once he did that, he picked up a pencil. That, his mother says, changed his world.

He could draw what he needed or wanted. He drew a glass of water when he was thirsty, a box of cereal when he was hungry, or his bed when he was tired.

Once he started drawing, he started talking. Giauque says she thinks somehow the art promoted his verbal skills. She says drawing then became much more than a way to communicate his needs. It became a way to express his inner emotional life.

Because of his autism, Garrett has a hard time processing emotion. She says it became quicker to have him draw his feelings, rather than have him explain them. After an argument at home — Garrett dislikes loud sounds and raised voices — Garrett drew a cartoon-like drawing about it.

Giauque says Garrett views himself as weak, as the underdog, but in this case, drew himself as the aggressor. "It turned into more of an expression and a way that calmed him down and a way that he could escape and a way that he could kind of take time to express himself more fully," Giauque said.

Today Garrett spends hours sitting and drawing and sculpting, mostly animals and dinosaurs.

"That was just what drew him in were dinosaurs, animals, anything that's created from the Earth," Giauque said.

Out of available materials — foam core board, masking tape, clay, hot glue and spackle — he produced impressively detailed figures of a Tyrannosaurus and an Apatosaurus.

It turned into more of an expression and a way that calmed him down and a way that he could escape and a way that he could kinda take time to express himself more fully.

–April Giauque, Garrett's mother

"It's what he lives for," Giauque said. "It is a really true, innate ability that blows my mind."

Garrett says he had a dream about a new zoo located near his cousins, who live in Herriman. So he decided to draw a catalogue of all the animals in what he calls this "new and unexpected zoo."

"He started to put them on poster board and pretty soon 2 to 3 pieces of poster board were not enough," Giauque said. "So he continued to tape together poster boards."

More than a year and 400 library books later, the "Herriman zoo," rolled out, and stretches from the front door to the back door of his house.

"Because of the autism, he's able to hyperfocus in and capture the detail of it and express himself," she said. As for Garrett's future, his mother says, "You have a lot of hopes."

She hopes he'll one day be able to work in a museum and draw animals.

His "first favorite exhibit on the planet" is the Ogden Dinosaur Park and he dreams about working there one day.

"The ability that autism has given him in the sense of how to focus, how to look at detail, how to create things," Giauque said. "That is going to be his gift back to the world."

"Well Garrett's a different man and Garrett's a surviving guy, surviving autistic kid," Garrett said. "Trying to survive this life and world."


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Peter Rosen


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