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Gainesville Resturaunt Features Artists For World Autism Day

A piece by Jovon Howard depicting her daughter. Howard said the way her autistic daughter sees the world inspires her art.
A piece by Jovon Howard depicting her daughter. Howard said the way her autistic daughter sees the world inspires her art.

Bryan Garlin doesn’t speak often, but he loves graphic design.

Garlin, a student at Santa Fe College, has autism. He began creating his cartoon, “Harry the Fox,” as an alter-ego of himself, his mother Margie Garlin said.  On Sunday, Garlin’s work and other art was displayed at the Backyard of Boca Fiesta for World Autism Day.

Margie Garlin, a parent partner with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, said she thinks the next step is not autism awareness, but rather autism acceptance.

“We need more people to [accept] it, because there’s things about individuals on the spectrum that a lot of people don’t tolerate real well,” she said.

She said her son will communicate selectively and communicates differently than others, often expressing his want and needs, but not engaging in social conversations. She said he mentions that he can’t get his thoughts from his brain to his mouth, but listens carefully and knows what goes on around him.

Garlin began working with the center, commonly called CARD, about 16 years ago as a bookkeeper, but got increasingly involved until she began helping with programs and outreach.

She said that art can be a good way for her Bryan to express himself, but sometimes art shows like the one on Sunday can be hard. He worries about how they’ll display the works, if people will like it and more, she said.

“He likes it when he does it but the show itself can be stressful,” she said.

Megan Thornton, the education and training specialist at CARD, said they took every step possible to make sure the event was friendly and accessible for all. She said the owners of Boca Fiesta let her open early to show the space to a nervous artist, and were accommodating to whatever needed to be done to make the event a success.

“We want to create a presence in the community that shades a positive light on individuals that have autism and the awesome creative capabilities that those individuals have,” Thornton said.

Thornton stresses that in order to continue providing care and services for people with autism, the center and others like it need funding. UF’s CARD covers 14 counties, from Hamilton to Hernando. It is not funded consistently, Thornton said, which is why they often put out a donation jar at events.

“Our presence speaks volumes,” Thornton said.

Some of the art displayed was not by those with autism, but the parents of children with autism. Jovon Howard, whose daughter Jaliyah has autism, creates artwork inspired by her child. One piece shows Jaliyah, 7, looking into a mirror and seeing a bright, joyful being shouting back.

Howard said that while Jaliyah is mostly non-verbal, she is a social butterfly.

“When you meet a child with autism, that’s all you’ve met, one child,” Howard said. “Autism doesn’t have one look.”

Howard founded a group called Lets Go 4 Kids, which hosts sensory-friendly events for all children with disabilities, not just those on the autism spectrum. For instance, they held an event at the movies, with the lighting and sound adjusted for the kids’ sensory sensitivity.

Howard said she hopes to see more accessibility in the future so kids can be kids.

“More inclusion, I wish I would see that a lot more in the community,” she said.

Romy Ellenbogen is a reporter with WUFT News. She can be reached at romye@ufl.edu