My son Tommy was diagnosed with autism in 1990 at the age of 2 and is non-verbal. Although he cannot express his feelings through words, he has an extraordinary talent to communicate through his art.
In September 2016, Tommy's music therapy class abruptly closed. He really enjoyed the class so his support team began looking for another activity that would be good for him. I remember getting a call, asking if he'd like to try a new art therapy class. Although I wasn't totally optimistic, we've always been open to trying new things, so this decision would be no different.
His first class was only an hour long but when I look back, I say that it was the hour that forever changed our world. The art supervisor called to ask if Tommy had ever painted before. When I said "No, never," she was shocked. She went on to tell me how they gave him a palette knife, some acrylic paint and a canvas and just let him do whatever came naturally. Tommy picked up the knife as if he was familiar with it and began creating his first abstract painting. His huge smile and giggles lit up the room and was contagious to everyone there. It was an exciting moment for all.
While all this was happening, Tommy's Dad, his namesake Tom, became unexpectedly ill and died within a few weeks. I remember wondering how and if Tommy would understand that he wasn't going to see his Dad anymore; how would Tommy process this tragedy, as Tommy generally only showed happy emotions. We got answers through his art. His new paintings became very dark - and "sad." We believe it was his way of grieving. Later, we noticed Angels in many of his pieces. Alas, Tommy found his Voice.
Several years and hundreds of paintings later, his abstract impressions left viewers speechless. He is incredibly prolific and yet, we were only just beginning to learn about all of his capabilities. Many people didn't know he had a "dis"ability, just an incredible, creative "a"bility. His art exhibits were well-attended with most of his original paintings quickly selling out. People from across the United States saw his art posted on social media and purchased them from afar. He was quickly becoming a sought-after artist.
Then in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world shut down. So did all of Tommy's activities, recreation, exhibitions and art therapy. It was during this time that the dream of Tommy's Voice was born. I saw the joy art gave to Tommy and wanted to give other people with intellectual and physical disabilities access to more art studio classes and recreational activities. With the help of his team, we began painting in the garage, matting and framing his original work, while scanning them all so they could be reproduced.
In September 2021, almost five years to the day Tommy started painting, Tommy's Voice was granted 501(c)(3) status. Although we're just getting started, we hope you will become a part of our mission and help us make the world a little more special, inclusive and creative place for all.
Eve Hennigan, Founder
(a.k.a. Tommy's Mom)
“There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen.” —Rumi