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Art in the time of COVID

I will be fundraising for the Smile Project by Autism Support Famagusta. Smile is the first and only day care centre for adults with autism in Famagusta, Cyprus – and it hosts my brother.  

In 2015 Autism Support Famagusta I wrote: “Their dream is to build a home within the community to provide care and a quality of life for people with Autism. The long-term goal is a specialised centre which will offer kids with Autism tailored education and pastime.” And now here we are. The Smile centre opened in September 2019 and currently hosts 3 adults, with interest from even more families.

But now SMILE, like all schools, has been closed due to Covid-19 and our boys are being home-schooled, it’s easier for some more than others. It’s distressing for us to stay at home, but even more when you rely on that sense of routine and repetition to get through the day. When parents have to divide their time to further the education of all their children, neurotypical or not, as well as keeping the peace, maintaining the household etc. Your donation can buy toys, art supplies, puzzles to continue their education or to help with paying rent or utilities so that the boys have somewhere to return to when all this is over.

So, read more about SMILE on the blog and pick a painting you like – info below. Make us an offer! These are difficult times, so I won’t price them. It’s up to you to bid and, once confirmed, donate directly to the school http://www.autismsupportfamagusta.com/donate . I will post the painting to you on the weekend after you order it.

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Acrylic on canvas, 35x28cm because I love elephants and Christos loves the sea.

 

 

 

 

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Deer – acrylic on canvas – 51.40.5 cm

I love blue. Maybe this is why?

 

 

 

 

 

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Life – Acrylic on canvas – 50×39.5cm

Blue again and women. Strong, powerful, shapely, pregnant, tall, short, beautiful women.

 

 

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Regal – Acrylic on canvas – 50×39.5cm

A clear blue sky here featuring a beautiful woman, a powerful pose and a regal bird.

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Hiding – Acrylic on canvas – 60×40.5cm

Another power pose by a magnificent woman. There is so much more than meets the eye.

 

 

 

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In progress – Acrylic on canvas 65×89.5cm

This is my interpretation of Kilmt’s Expectation. Klimt has been my surrealist guide and I draw inspiration from his love for women and nature. Here, instead of expectation, she strikes another power pose and opens herself up.

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Covid Coping

Aren’t you distressed by this lockdown?

Imagine the distress of people who find comfort in routine, people who need the security of repetition. Eating the same meal, going to the same shop, drinking the same brand of juice or going to school. We have had a schedule in our home since Christos started using PECS – details here. I talk about it extensively and often because it is central to keeping him calm and happy. The enormous amounts of work parents put into developing their kids communication skills either with PECS or otherwise and teaching everyone to use it is inconceivable – you can read about it on this blog or visit the web pages for autism organisations who share stories. (You can’t spell autism without family)

An autism family spends most of their lives educating at home because even though they may go to school and do homework, they can only get to the point of going to school and doing homework if the family has paved the way. They can only continue to grow, if the family keeps putting down those blue bricks and creating paths for them to take. You don’t understand the time and effort needed  our children’s education and every day life. The determination of family and the incredible teachers who contributed to Christos’ education created this 22 year old man who reads, writes, tells time, does math in his head, teaches himself (and us) to use technology and loves (with a bit of encouragement from us) learning new things (if it’s on the daily schedule).

Imagine the distress of those parents who have to home-school children who would otherwise be taught in a special unit or by a speech therapist. Think of parents who have both neurotypical and neurodiverse kids, who aren’t working at the moment, who can’t afford new toys or resources to occupy or educate their own for another 3 weeks. Parent’s who have to reiterate different schedules to persons with autism who don’t understand this sudden unexpected change and disruption to everyday life. By the way, if you or someone you know if having a hard time, there is a lot of information on coronavirus and resources that may help here

Even though we are all isolating, it is important to remember that some people are more at risk of not surviving social isolation or not recovering from it. Now, more than ever we need to think of others and, while staying home, find safe ways to help others who may be struggling more than you. There are so many ways to be kind – calling, texting, delivering supplies, donating to your local charity, giving away toys or books you won’t use etc.

My plan is to raise money by selling paintings I have painted over the last few years. I am raising money for the SMILE project which operates in Famagusta, Cyprus because “the Cypriot government, while responsible in making education accessible and available for all, has failed to …provide establishments which can cater to adults with autism living in the Cypriot society. Hence, it is left to autism societies, organisations and groups to create their own places of education and development of character.”

But what happens to areas where such an organisation doesn’t exist? Or it doesn’t have the funds? What happens when these schools close because of Covid-19 but some parents, who aren’t working due to the pandemic, still have to pay utilities and rent to keep the school.

“Every person involved in the SMILE project was once just like you. None of us knew autism until it burst into our lives. But we started learning, growing, getting stronger and stumbling the whole way here – to this moment when action was needed yet again. So here we are, getting back up and marching forward, hoping that you will be a helping hand (or smile) by our side” – Smiling September

“SMILE was created with determination to establish a safe, educational space for our kids where the state has failed. It is [operating]…because of the fearlessness and strength of those involved. Those who have done the manual work, donating time and money to ensure that our gentle giants do not suffer the consequences of a state that doesn’t understand them” – 21 and Atypical: The SMILE Project

So, pick a painting you like and make us an offer. These are difficult times, so it’s up to you to make a choice and donate directly to the school http://www.autismsupportfamagusta.com/donate . I will post the painting to you on the weekend after you order it.

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Eternal Valentine

Love in an autism home means something different to the rest of the world. It means hassling your little bro for attention when he won’t play with you. It means finishing your homework and then doing his homework and speech therapy with him just so you can spend time together. Watching the same movie/scene over and over just to share experiences with him. It means staying up every night until he falls asleep first repeating his words. It means giving him all your tapes, toys, CDs, phones in the hope that it calms him down. It means running after him. It means making sure he is okay first.  

Love in an autism home is fierce and overwhelming. As a sibling, I learned at the age of 10 that my childhood, teens and adulthood weren’t my own. As the big sister I thought this little boy was going to adore me, follow me around and annoy me for the rest of my life. Instead, he flipped it all on me and made me the follower.

Love in an autism home breaks you apart and builds you back up. It takes control of every little bit of your soul – even the ones you don’t find out about until years later – and it makes every piece of you better. It gives you the highest highs and some lows far lower than I ever knew were possible.

Love in an autism home takes away your identity. Whoever you thought you were is gone and now you’re someone new. Someone capable of things you never thought of – strength, emotional intelligence, thinking beyond the imaginable. It forces you to love yourself.

Love in an autism home inspires fears bigger than anything you can imagine. I am crippled by the fear of something happening to me because what would happen to him? Who would understand him and give him what he needs? Will he have a home and will he be safe? My fears manifest in love for myself; taking care of me and being overprotective of my welbeing. It made me selfish when it comes to health and forced me to be prepared for any eventuality I can imagine.

Love in an autism home takes away your eyesight and gives you perception. It leaves you blind to egos and gives you uninterrupted vision to see beyond the visible. To dream big and look forward to a future that is waiting to be written by the struggle and fight and determination of autism families for autism families.

On this day I reflect on a life so full of love and I am so grateful for my eternal Valentine – my brother. I hope I get to spend all my lifetimes being inspired by you.

Happy Valentines, Galentines, Malentines, Palentines and Friday to all of you ❤

 

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My hopes for you and me

My 20s were full of love, laughter, crying, drama, fights, loses, wins, deal breakers, trips, transitions, degrees, decisions, heartbreaks, booze, dreams and so much more. Sometimes I wonder what your 20 would have been like if you were neurotypical. I wonder if we would still be a family, how close we would be and if I82233631_2531887710466115_4314041005243367424_n would worry about you. Would we hang out? Send cards? Meet on special occasions? Would our lives depend on each others?

Probably no. But for better or for worse, our lives are intertwined. We are close, I worry about you, we hang out, send cards and meet on special occasions. All these banal things take a completely different meaning but that meaning is ours – yours and mine.

To be honest, I am nowhere near where I thought I would be at 30 but I know where I’m going. I know where home is. I can make plans and dream big – I’m doing better. I spent my 20s chasing goals and worrying that I didn’t belong to one place or have a home but I’ve realised that anywhere with people is home – I have so many homes and that’s okay. You taught me that. In the last decade you have moved to 7 different homes, changed 3 schools and you were okay.

In my 30s I have all I need and maybe that was the gold I was so desperate to find – not earning enough to support us both or having a high-stakes powerhouse job but being a powerhouse and strong enough to be okay with not being okay, being irresponsible to learn responsibility, being broken to become resourceful and being miserable to appreciating happiness.

My hopes for you are that you are happy where you are, with the people you are with. I hope that when you look at yourself you love you, and that when you don’t you can lean back into our love for you. I hope you continue living your life knowing that there are people around you who know you and can represent you and keep you safe. In return, I promise to be safe so that you always have a voice. I promise to live the life I have at this home away from you and always come home to you – for all the decades in my life and yours and beyond.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to Autism Support Famagusta over the last few weeks. I am aware of some tech issues but even if you were not able to donate, your intentions mean that you can out there instead and spread what you’ve learned like a kind of autism awareness plague.

To donate: http://www.autismsupportfamagusta.com/donate

Thank you.

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Hear me roar (about autism): 2013-2014

I am saying goodbye to my 20s this year and will be fundraising for the Smile Project by Autism Support Famagusta. Smile is the first and only day care centre for adults with autism in Famagusta, Cyprus – and it hosts my brother. 

To donate please follow this link and use the hashtag #30smiles

After my graduation I was a bit lost. I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue a career in law, I isolated my self and spent most of my days on the couch or in bed. I had decided not to return home (to Cyprus) all the pursuit of happiness and love. Only, after three years of living away from home I still wasn’t any wiser re the happiness and completely lost about the love bit. One gloomy day, I was re re watching an old series when an episode about writing spoke to me. Coincidentally, I had a little run-in with blog writing at a temp job where I wrote a post about unemployment and the woes of being a law graduate in the state of today’s economy. The process, as well as the response, made me think this was destiny (I believed in destiny when I was 22, just like you did). So, I got out of bed and did some research. Ok I sat up in bed and did some research.

The blog tips I got from various internet sources, sitcoms and friends were “Be yourself”, “Spell check” and “Pick a theme, write about something you’re passionate about” – so what was I passionate about? Looking back now, it was so obvious and I don’t know why it took that long to find the answer. I was still learning about myself and crawling my way out of my own personal dark ages for the previous ten years so I had to dig deep and shed all the layers and masks I had on. One night, I was Skyping home and Christos was being a tiger on camera. After that I spoke to dad about the issues he was having at school. I hung up, cried and realised I’m passionate about him and his future. Destiny (i thought) struck again when I read a guest blog article on BBC about how autistic children are presented with special jargon phrases. Mark Neary captured it completely; it made me laugh out loud and at the same time gave me the courage to create this page and write my first post .

199123_10150167935090030_1697873_n (1)The next two years where a blur. The blog took off in a way that I never expected and so did I. I had so much to say, share, relive, consider, reflect on and learn. Writing all this down made me cry every time. Suddenly, in two years I went from re re watching series in bed and avoiding my feelings to advocating for rights in Canada, Australia, France, the UK and writing articles about us in Greek, writing to MPs and governments around the world. I was approached by autism charities, organisations, radio stations, TV stations about my story (links to articles under Published tab on main page). There was no hiding anymore, no masks.

Writing became a regular thing. It got me out of bed, it made me think, it made me angry, it made me change things and perceptions around me. I had found my voice and the roar I had been suppressing was bursting out of me. My life was filled with people from all around the world who were going through the same thing I was, who wanted guidance, help or advice. People who had just gotten a diagnosis, or who didn’t know which therapy to go for, or parents who worried about how the siblings of the kid with autism would be affected. Writing about autism brought me the happiness I was looking for and it made me look at me in a different way. I knew so much more than I gave myself credit for. I had so much to give and the sadness and anger I felt transformed into inspiration and were channelled into this blog – which made a difference in other peoples’ lives but, perhaps more importantly it mended my ties with my family, and myself. I learned so much about myself through writing about Christos – yet another gift he has given me.

I published 52 posts on the blog in 2013/2014 and, today, this is my 201st post. On the second day of 2020 I won’t set any resolutions because it doesn’t matter what you think you want to do or what is expected of you – what you are is already you. So I am grateful for transformation my brother inspired in the last 21 years, I am thankful for all the friends we have around the world through this blog and I am more inspired than ever to continue advocating for this cause.

I hope you will join me.

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Then and now: 2010

I am saying goodbye to my 20s this year and to counteract the selfish need to reflect on the last decade I will be fundraising for the Smile Project by Autism Support Famagusta. Smile is the first and only day care centre for adults with autism in Famagusta, Cyprus.

For more information: Smiling September

To donate please follow this link and use the hashtag #30smiles

Hindsight is an incredible feeling isn’t it? I look back at who I was then and I can see clearly how I got to where I am. My last decade plays like a film in front of my eyes and at centre stage is Christos because there is nothing I am more proud of in life that to be his other half. To live up to his expectations every day, to earn and keep his trust, to walk beside him in life.

It wasn’t always my priority though. Even though he was the driving force behind my decision to move to the UK to study, my teens are a blur for the most part. See,  we all have ways of getting by and mine is that I block out parts of life/the past I don’t want to remember.

I was lost, looking for meaning, love, somewhere to belong and in a constant battle between the need to be selfish and take care of me and feeling guilty for not being selfless. But with the bad there was good and I’ll try to focus on those. Through all the family drama, heartbreak and late nights that consumed my 2010 there was light.

This picture is from Halloween 2010. Because, I don’t have any other pictures of me and my brother that year. It was a selfish year and but looking back, 10 years later, it had to be. There’s a part of my heart that will always be hollow with all the moments of Christo’s life I missed out on before he outgrew us all. But like any family unit, we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of each other – we just didn’t know back then. Mum took him to a parade in Cyprus and he dressed as Woody from Toy Story, it was one of his favourite animation films. We watched it over and over and over, and knew all the words. I remember him asking to watch it and when Sid would come up he would hide. 

This year? We get to spend the entire day together in Sri Lanka, making memories and cementing our bond. The difference is that this is a selfless year. We have both overcome our individual obstacles and experiences that weighed us down – Christos has moved to a new school and is tackling issues bigger than him or us. He has paved the way for other families of kids and adults with autism to look forward to a future which doesn’t condemn them to sit on the sidelines of a society that doesn’t have money or time to invest in their abilities.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s been smooth sailing because we had a tough day yesterday. I travelled through 5 time zones in 3 days and it took its toll. The repetition of the routine and his need for everything to be the same is exhausting at the best of times. But today, we are both rested, we have a plan and we are back on track. 

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21 and Atypical: Happy Birthday Steph🍾🍰

Stephanos is 21 years old today!

19358841_10154713771921238_1693404057_oJust like his bestie, he won’t be preoccupied with this day. His birthday will serve as a reminder to his family of how far he has come and how many Steph milestones he has reached. A birthday is too typical to be atypical like our boys. Stephanos won’t get excited about presents, or friends coming over for a party. His phone won’t be beeping with Happy Birthday notifications and he won’t feel the social pressure we feel when we reach a certain age.

Stephanos doesn’t live to please social norms, or to meet society’s expectations 27752278_10155332857716238_3880961810554679579_nof what a 21 year old ‘should’ do. As his mother has so beautifully put it “He may not accomplish University, marriage, or having children like in a “ typical ” world but he has been totally loved and supported by family , friends, schooling and society. I am positive if he could speak he would confirm in a verbal manner how blessed he is on this subject. Autism is part of society nowadays and we all do our “ bit” to accept and embrace because after all we are just human. We have all learned that a “ typical” world isn’t always for everyone. Society has its beautiful exceptions and Stephanos is an example”.

Stephanos lives to break the ‘norms’, exceed expectations, inspire and pave the way to a new and more inclusive world. He was the inspiration for so many actions taken by his family that have shaped and given meaning to my life. He inspired our group, the special unit in Ayia Napa, the summer schools for children with autism in our area and eventually the SMILE project. In a world where everyone wants to be an individual, Stephanos is the most inspiring of them all. Because Stephanos has allowed so many others to be themselves, to be individuals and to be exceptions just by being himself.

Happy birthday Steph. Thank you for inspiring my family, for opening doors for us we never thought possible. Thank you for being my brother’s friend.

Stephanos’ birthday closes my 21 and Atypical series (although I will be referring back to it with updates from the boys). So join me in wishing him a very happy birthday.