“They have every bit as much to teach us, as we have to teach them. Maybe more…” Jacqui Callis, Eddie’s mom
Update September 17, 2013. Eddie’s mom sent me this video of Eddie playing harmonica and the blues.
Eddie Callis turned 21 in July. A prolific artist with an ear for music, he has already come a long way in his young life. Debra Hosseini charts his progress in overcoming difficulties that began the day he was born. As originally printed in the U.K. magazine Autism Eye. For the PDF of the article click here.
The steel forceps clamp on his little head causing Eddie and his mom Jacqui much trauma. The first night after his delivery, Eddie experiences a massive seizure. Jacqui awakes the next morning shocked to find her newborn is in intensive care.
She and her partner are counseled on the possibility of living with a child with brain-damage.
When Eddie latches onto her breast, Jacqui knows he isn’t as brain-damaged as the hospital staff are making him out to be. She is relieved, too, when the MRI of Eddie’s brain shows no abnormalities.
Nine days later, Eddie is released from the hospital. The seizure is attributed to “birthing trauma.”
Several months later, with his first fever, Eddie experiences a febrile seizure. At age five, Eddie receives a formal diagnosis of epilepsy.
When his seizure activity is at its worse, Eddie draws a huge face with a circle in the forehead. A bunch of people are drawn inside the circle. This is Jacqui’s first indication her son may be able to communicate his complex feelings through art. His sketchbook becomes an intervention.
“Whenever we are to meet people we take his sketchbook to entertain Eddie. He likes to draw their portraits. Without it he would be dancing on the ceiling,” Jacqui explains.
Eddie’s talent isn’t only with art, Jacqui soon discovers he has an ear for music.
“Although he finds it impossible to remember words, he can recall a tune on one hearing. He has an exceptional ear for picking out music.”
Eddie’s early school years are challenging. His mom attributes his difficulty with retrieving words, mood swings, and behavioural problems to side effects of the epilepsy medications. His teachers blame his behaviours on their parenting.
Eddie’s only childhood friend, Emma, is a girl who connects with Eddie through the arts.
Eddie becomes an easy target for students who encourage Eddie to play pranks.
Eddie’s parents are determined to find a proper educational setting for him. After many battles they secure a prized position at Swiss Cottage Special School in London. Eddie is happy in this school and thrives.
A few years later, when the family moves to Cornwall, they find another school that specializes in complex communication, learning difficulties and disabilities. Throughout his school years, Eddie has the diagnosis of epilepsy, associated learning disability and autistic characteristics.
In his teens, Jacqui begins researching autism. The more she reads, the more she becomes convinced Eddie is autistic. His obsessions, lack of flexibility in moving from one activity to another, difficulty in understanding the concept of time, sensitivity to loud noises, tendencies to make socially inappropriate comments, and his lack of friends are all clear signs.
At the age of eighteen, Eddie finally receives a formal diagnosis of autism. The diagnosis comes as a relief to Eddie and his family. Jacqui wonders if the autism has always been present. Probably.
Although there are not many programs in the Arts for people like Eddie in Cornwall, his mom and dad’s creativity helps Eddie and many others find their voices through the Arts.
Three years ago, after Jacqui starts singing with a choir group, Eddie insists his mom set up a singing group for people like him. Thus was born the Apex Singing Group in which Eddie and others perform.
“Eddie has a lovely voice and comes up with great spontaneous melodies,” his mother proudly shares.
After a long search, Jacqui finds a mainstream art teacher, Peter, who allows Eddie to work alongside Level 2 college students. Peter overlooks Eddie’s challenges, appreciating and nurturing Eddie’s natural talents and enthusiasm.
In the first year working only one day a week in Peter’s class, Eddie produces more work than the other full time students. Two of the portraits he produces are now going to an exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery. Peter customizes a Level 1 course just for Eddie and Eddie completes it the next year. Then Eddie goes on to the actual Level 2 college course, which he passes with distinction. Eddie is now in a Level 3 Access Course in Art and Design.
Last year Eddie made his first best friend since Emma. Although non-verbal, his new best friend, Kyle Coleman, sings with perfect pitch and recently released an album. Eddie encourages Kyle in the Arts and feels he can help Kyle one day begin communicating by speaking.
One day, Eddie hopes to become a famous artist, exhibiting his work around the world. He would love to be in a band, singing and playing his harmonica on world-class stages. He would love to learn how to drive a car.
For now Eddie, who turned 21 in July, wishes for what most people his age wish for – an independent and fulfilling life. Next year, he hopes to move into supported living with some of his new friends. Things are looking promising for Eddie.
Jacqui’s advice to parents is this: “Follow your hunches. If your child isn’t verbal, use your intuition to listen. Know that our children are the future. We might as well join in their world, if we are ever to expect them to join in ours! They have every bit as much to teach us, as we have to teach them. Maybe more…”
Wise words from a wise woman!
To find out more about Eddie, visit his website.
Eddie’s art work is also on display in the Art of Autism gallery. Click here to purchase the book The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions by Debra Hosseini