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When My Son With Down Syndrome Found His Calling as an Artist

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“I am an artist!”

“It’s my JOB.”
Oh, OK.

“I call it Art for Dollars!”
Good idea, Charlie.

But was this really a good idea?

My son Charlie has Down syndrome. During high school, Charlie’s career focus was working in a kitchen: loading and unloading a dishwasher, packing up foodstuffs, wiping tables. And why was this his focus? Because Charlie liked food; he liked to eat. Unfortunately, he did not like working in a kitchen at all.

After high school, Charlie worked with a job coach, serving seniors snacks at day centers. And why this focus? Because Charlie liked snacks. But, again, he really disliked the work.

My husband and I wondered for many years what meaningful employment would look like for Charlie. We tried to match his skills, his communication and his degree of independence to potential employment opportunities. But what we wanted in our hearts was for Charlie to find purpose in life. Joy. A community even. Possibly success. And, just maybe, earn some money.

So, when Charlie declared his profession as an artist six years ago, we listened to him and to our hearts. We followed his lead, unsure where the path was taking him and us.

But what better way was there to honor our child, who had from the beginning brought us on an unexpected journey, than to support him in following his dreams?

This arts journey with Charlie has not always been easy or lucrative, but he feels accomplished, finds joy in his studio, sells his work, and fellow artists around the world send him encouragement and support. Most importantly, Charlie feels successful. He works hard and dreams big.

So, overall, Charlie’s idea was a good one. And it has certainly led to exciting and unexpected opportunities and connections.

Most recently, Charlie partnered with Michael’s Stores and it has been a true highlight in his arts career. If you are grappling with your child’s future, I hope this video (link below) inspires you. It certainly does Charlie — he insists on watching it multiple times a day and happily repeating “Made by Charlie, Made by You.”

Originally published: October 6, 2020
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