LASALLE, Ill. (AP) — For 12 years, artist Rebecca Ann Reed of La Salle, formerly of Ladd, did not draw or paint.

"That's when I was kind of lost," she said.

When she finally picked up a paintbrush again in February of last year, the first few canvases were filled with dark images — including one titled "Demon Lore."

Fast forward to today, and she is painting titles like "Sea Fairy" and "Tranquility."

What made the difference? The painting itself.

"It's art therapy. It helps a lot," said Reed, who said a psychologist told her she had a high-functioning form of autism. "Which I guess would be Asperger's, but they don't use that term anymore."

"My art is the easiest part of my life," Reed said. "Everything else is the hard part."

Because of her age — she's a 43-year-old adult, not a child — Reed was told she already had "adjusted" to society, so there was no therapy available for her.

But the diagnosis was more helpful than a previous suggestion that she was suffering from depression. The antidepressant medication she tried only made things worse, she said.

"I do get depressed," she said, "but it's not because I'm sad. I'm just so tired from having to talk to people all day."

According to the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks, Asperger Syndrome was a separate sub-type of autism that was re-categorized under the single diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in 2013. And not everyone with autism has the same challenges.

"I'm just one person. Nobody is the same," Reed said. "There are some people with autism that love math. I hate math. I can't stand numbers. I'm better with words, colors. Colors are what I like the best."

For Reed, the challenges include nonverbal communication and a struggle to understand social/emotional issues.

"My hardest challenge is the socializing," she said. "I tend to mimic other people to fit in. I don't mean to do that."

That tendency bothers her because she feels she is not being genuine.

"I've been working on just being me. There's people that accept me, and there's people that find me extremely annoying, but I can't help that."

She struggles with understanding some cultural norms, and even more with being understood.

"I am still so lost with the social stuff. I tend to say the wrong things," she said.

For example, she sometimes inadvertently says something that seems mean.

And it doesn't help that her nonverbal communication deviates from what other people might expect.

"A lot of times my expression does not match what I'm feeling inside," she said, "or my tone of voice won't match what I'm feeling. I'm taken the wrong way a lot and misunderstood."

Reed said she also has sensory processing disorder. Noises started affecting her as an adult, although they didn't when she was younger.

She has a hard time in large groups of people. When there are several conversations happening at once, she has difficulty listening to the person in front of her.

"Even though I'm in the group, I feel like I'm on the outside looking in," she said, "because I can't contribute. I can't focus on just one conversation."

"I always have that feeling that I don't belong, and I try to fit in."

Since beginning the journey of understanding herself as a woman with autism, Reed has found life a little easier. One of the main sources of relief has been her art.

"This is probably the best my life has been so far," she said. "If I'm having a hard day and I've got a lot of negative energy built up, I'll paint, and that releases all that and I'll feel better. That's how I'm able to cope every day."

Abstract painting helps her bounce back from the negative emotions, and drawing helps her relax her mind.

She no longer seeks professional counseling, but she does seek out others who will understand — and help her understand herself.

"I usually just go online and go in the chat rooms with other people like me," she said.

She has found several blogs and Facebook pages she finds helpful, and recognizes herself in the pages of Tania Marshall's book, "I am AspienWoman: The Unique Characteristics, Traits, and Gifts of Adult Females on the Autism Spectrum."

She also found friendship and acceptance in the local artists' club River Valley Visuals, which meets monthly.

Only about eight people attend the meetings, but it took eight months of getting to know the individuals in the group before she finally felt like she belonged.

"I wasn't going to continue the meetings for this year but then I decided to keep it up and I'm glad I did," she said. "I've met other artists that are very talented and I just love talking to them. It makes it easier when you have a friend."

One of those friends is Rachel Brisbois of Wenona, a fellow artist in the club who also participated with her in NCI ARTworks' Silo Pathways Project in Streator.

Brisbois described Reed as "very outgoing and funny" and said she wouldn't have guessed her new friend had autism if she hadn't mentioned it.

"She was always very up front about her autism. I never felt uncomfortable about it, but I think opening up to everyone helped her cope," Brisbois said. "Perhaps, too, helped us understand her better."

Last year Reed had her favorite quote from "The Hobbit" tattooed onto her arm. "Little by little one travels far."

What does it mean to her?

"Little things add up to something big. I might not have gotten very far at one time, but all my little steps are leading me to something bigger," she said.

Through her connections at River Valley Visuals, she was asked to host an exhibit at the Paint Box art gallery in the Westclox building in Peru. The artists' biography lets viewers in on why she does what she does.

"I have Asperger's, and my art is my voice that interprets my thoughts and emotions," it reads. "My work explores my interests, experiences and fears which are better understood through my drawings rather than spoken."

Reed has studied art already and said she plans to go back to school in January for graphic design.

There's no "cure" for autism. But even if there was a medicine she could take that would change her condition, Reed said she probably wouldn't take it.

"I view my autism as my gift," she said. "I see things that people miss every day — little details. And I wonder if people see colors as bright as I do or hear noises as clear as I do.

"I wouldn't have myself any other way, because I wouldn't be me."


Source: (LaSalle) News-Tribune,


Information from: News-Tribune,

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the (LaSalle) News-Tribune.