In early November, 2011, Dad and I loaded a large painting I’d created for Autism Speaks into our minivan and drove the 1100 miles from Missouri to New York City to present it to them. Because the painting was so big, it probably took me longer to complete it than any other painting I’ve ever done. In the middle of the painting is the blue puzzle piece that is the symbol for Autism Speaks. The overland around the puzzle piece is the color complement of blue, variations of the color orange. Small hearts are lined up throughout the painting; in the orange area the hearts are warm colors; red, orange, and yellow; in the puzzle piece, the hearts are cool colors; green, purple, and blue. The hearts are intended to depict the feelings that people with autism have that many people don’t realize they possess. They also symbolize the love and care that parents, teachers, and other mentors give people with autism.
I presented this painting in a small conference room in the Autism Speaks offices. Just as you wrap presents up for birthdays and holidays so whoever it’s for can’t see what it is until it’s time, I put a big cloth over the painting as we brought it in so I could “reveal” what it was when I got there. It was to be hung in that same room, and I understand that in honor of that painting, they renamed it the “Taylor Crowe Conference Room.” I was videotaped unveiling the painting and talking about it. A few short hours later, an editor at Autism Speaks put that footage on the web for people on the internet to enjoy.
Although I’ve had my driver’s license for 13 years, because of my autism it has taken longer for me to master the art of driving than most people, so I still sometimes need parental supervision when I drive. I continually get better and better. On this trip I got lots of highway driving in, but I also felt I needed experience driving in New York City, so I drove with dad supervising! It wasn’t so much dangerous as it was slow; it took forever just to get in and out of one street! Although I needed the experience and Dad said I did great, I never wanna drive in New York City again, it’s just too nerve-wracking! I was always told that defensive driving is hard with autism because those of us with autism expect other drivers to follow the rules, but drivers in Manhattan don’t drive defensively, either! They drive offensively!
Former NBC head Bob Wright founded Autism Speaks after his retirement circa 2005 to spread hope and seek help for his grandson who had recently received an autism diagnosis. Wright and wife Suzanne are very committed to helping their grandson and future generations of autistic children. I did not see the Wrights on the trip when I delivered the painting, but I did meet them in April, 2010. On that trip I was involved in a dinner with retired basketball stars from the NBA, including my cousin who played for the Knicks, Bill Bradley. I got to introduce him when he spoke that evening. Since Bradley and Wright know each other and both have relatives with autism, that evening was very important to them. I was quite proud to be there.
Taylor Crowe and his father David are on a 2,200 mile quest of the heart.
Taylor is an artist, and a good one. He’s not just talented, he is incredible. 2 years ago, he spoke eloquently at Autism Speaks “Tip off for a Cure” event, charming us with his stories, enthusiasm and creativity.
Today, Taylor and David visited our offices to present a truly remarkable creation – a painting of epic proportions (it barely fit into their mini-van) that comes with a brilliant explanation about the autism community.
“The hearts show the feelings that people with autism have that many people don’t realize that they have. They also show the feelings that parents, and mentors, and other people show for working with people with autism.”
In talking with Taylor after the presentation, we learned that he’s on his way to speak at a LoveU2Pieces conference – if you are in the St. Louis area, be sure to attend!
Watch as Taylor presented “Puzzle of the Heart” and talks about the meaning behind the art:
On April 14, over 450 guests gathered at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for “Tip-Off for a Cure,” an evening to benefit Autism Speaks and The Gillen Brewer School which raised over $1.3 million. The evening was emceed by Sportscaster and Basketball Hall-of-Famer Marv Albert and honored former Senator Bill Bradley, a Managing Director of Allen & Company, LLC; FedEx Corporation; Robert A. Kindler, Vice Chairman & Global Head of Mergers & Acquisitions, Morgan Stanley; and Klaus Kleinfeld, President, CEO & Director, Alcoa.
One of the evening’s honorees, Bill Bradley, was introduced by his cousin, Taylor Crowe, an adult who has autism. Below is the speech that Taylor wrote and presented at the event:
Hi, everyone. I’m Taylor Crowe. I’m 28 years old, and I’m one of the many ways autism speaks. I’ve given talks about life with autism since I was 19. My goal is to tell as many people as I can what the world is like from the perspective of someone with autism.
As you know, many people with autism cannot talk. I feel extremely fortunate that I’m able to explain my life experiences to people.
Throughout my life, some of the things that happened to me were very positive, while others were negative. One of my reasons for speaking about life with autism is for others to learn from the negative things that happened to me so that in the future, people with autism won’t have such experiences.
I was born in 1981. Like lots of kids my age, my parents have home videos from my childhood. The video of my second birthday shows a happy little boy, laughing, talking and interacting with everyone in my family. Making eye contact. Sharing. There’s no hint of autism. The same is true in another video of me swimming with mom a few days later.
Just after I turned three, though, something happened. I don’t remember it, but my parents have told me about it: just after breakfast one morning I dropped my spoon to the floor, stood up, began crying and then screamed, “Daddy, daddy, my mouth won’t say the words; my mouth won’t say the words!” Within days I lost almost all my ability to speak and I became very, very unhappy. I’ve been told that I quit making eye contact, and also became very uncomfortable whenever someone wanted to hold me or hug me. I cried and screamed … a lot … every day. This, I’ve learned, confused and worried my mom and dad.
My first childhood memory is from sometime between ages three and four. A babysitter named Ann put me to bed, gave me a stuffed toy dog and asked, “You wanna take Snoopy to bed with you?” That seemed really unusual to me because I knew what the cartoon dog Snoopy looked like, and this dog looked totally different. I couldn’t say the words to explain what I meant. I knew what I wanted to say, but I was frustrated and unhappy because I couldn’t say the words.
My first childhood memory is of knowing words I couldn’t get my mouth to say.
Ann also gave me a toy rabbit to play with that spring. She called it Bugs Bunny. Once again, I knew what Bugs looked like, and this rabbit didn’t look anything like him, but I couldn’t explain myself.
What’s your first childhood memory? Mine is of terrible frustration: of knowing words, but not being able to say them.
After my autism took over and I started acting differently, mom and dad first thought I was just having trouble adjusting to having a new little brother around, but things kept getting worse. Before long, they knew something else was going on. They took me to a famous hospital where a psychiatrist diagnosed me with autism. He told my parents that I’d never have any friends, never live independently, never be able to drive a car, never be married, and never ever even be in a regular classroom with other kids. The doctor also suggested that they consider putting me in an institution when I got older, because he predicted that I’d become violent and unmanageable as a teenager. My parents didn’t know much about autism back then, but what they did know was that it never pays to give up; you always have to keep working at your goals, no matter how hard they might be! The only people who are doomed are those who give up!
Autism is a “spectrum disorder,” which means that autism is a lot of things that seem so similar they’re all given the same name. Some people with autism are high functioning, while others are low functioning. Some children are born with autism and their parents know something is different, even in the hospital nursery. Other children have perfectly normal childhoods until their autism appears, usually between 18 months and three years old. That’s the kind of autism I have: it’s why the video of my fourth birthday is remarkably different from my second birthday video. I was laughing and playing on my second birthday. I’m screaming and crying in my fourth birthday video.
Because of my autism I needed special treatment when I was younger. I started with language therapy when I was four and a half. Over time, this helped me learn how to communicate, and eventually, through the years, how to talk again. Starting at age 10, I had occupational therapy, which helped with my sense of touch and balance. I also had learning disabilities classes and other special needs classes when I was in school. But I was also in mainstream classes whenever I could be, around all the other kids in school as much as possible. All of these things really helped me a lot!
Tonight I’m proud to introduce someone who’s known me all of my life. He knew me when I was a baby, and he knew me when my autism took hold. He saw the changes, and, along with the rest of our family, experienced the confusion and uncertainty that came with my autism. He watched me grow up, and has seen the progression of things that have happened in my life. He’s my cousin, Bill Bradley, former forward for the Knicks in the late 60s and 70s, former U.S. senator, 1996 candidate for president of the United States … and former Student Body President of Crystal City High School in Crystal City, Missouri.
One memory I have of Bill is from when I was 10 ½ years old. We were visiting relatives in Crystal City. Dad had our video camera, so for fun, Bill and I took turns interviewing each other. I asked him about his family, about his life as a basketball player, and about what he really did for a living. I remember some of this by heart, because like many people with autism, I have a pretty good memory. We had a lot of fun that day.
And I think we’ll have fun tonight. Bill is a great speaker, a great friend, and a great cousin. And he’s got a pretty good memory, too. Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Bradley.
Autism Speaks would like to thank our event Co-Chairs, Henry Schacht, Chairman, The Gillen Brewer School; Tim Solso, Chairman and CEO, Cummins Inc.; David Stern, Commissioner, National Basketball Association; Paul Tagliabue, Former Commissioner, National Football League; and Suzanne & Bob Wright, Co-Founders, Autism Speaks, our friends at the Gillen Brewer School and the NBA & WNBA, our Event Committee, Honorees, special guests and many wonderful sponsors and patrons who supported this event to make it a resounding success.