In the last five years, 8-year old Sofia has spent over 10,000 hours drawing.
By Debra Muzikar
A portrait submission was made to the Art of Autism this week which I found quite compelling. The portraits had animated expressions and jumped off the screen. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Sofia Valentina, the artist, was only eight years old. My interest was piqued and I asked her mom Sariah a few questions about Sofia.
How many hours a day does Sofia draw?
If I were to average out the amount of time she draws per day, I would say close to 8 hours per day. I remember Sofia being pretty young, not even 2 years old, taking the crayons at a restaurant, and being able to color within the lines. At the time, I didn’t know she was autistic and I figured it was just by chance that she was staying in the lines. But by age 3, Sofia began really drawing. She was watching one of her favorite shows on Youtube and when it ended, the next video to play was a drawing tutorial of the cartoon she was watching. She was super intrigued by the drawing tutorial to say the least. She picked up her crayons and became obsessed with drawing what she saw. She’s transitioned from crayons to mostly colored pencils and markers now, and she also draws digitally on her tablet.
I just did the math on the amount of time she spends drawing… in the last 5 years, she’s drawn for over 10,000 hours!
What type of education is Sofia receiving?
Sofia began receiving ABA, O.T., and speech therapy at age 2 thanks to San Diego’s early intervention programs. In the beginning, it was difficult for Sofia, and for us as her parents, to participate in these therapies. There were a lot of meltdowns and stressful situations as we all adapted to Sofia’s therapies and their requirements, but I cannot stress enough how important these therapies were and continue to be in her life. We have seen tremendous change in Sofia over the years with regard to her speech and behavior, from being withdrawn and barely verbal, to speaking a little more independently and beginning to exhibit more behaviors that a child her age would exhibit. Sofia has only attended autism specialty schools throughout the years.
Sofia currently attends Spectrum Academy, a premier charter school in Utah for students on the Autism Spectrum. Spectrum has multiple campuses, and they operate kindergarten through twelfth grade. Spectrum not only provides Sofia with the academics she needs, they also provide her with speech, O.T., ABA, and life skills lessons. It has been a really great fit for her.
Can you tell me about Sofia’s communication skills?
Sofia is somewhat verbal. Sofia’s speech began primarily as echolalic speech – she memorized everything she heard and would script it aloud over and over throughout the day. At age 20 months, Sofia picked up Mandarin from watching a cartoon show and completely switched her speech to only Mandarin (By age 3, she spoke 3 different languages that she picked up on Youtube). This switch is what brought to our attention that something was different with Sofia. We saw her pediatrician shortly after and had her tested to find out she met the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder. We began speech therapy shortly after. Through the years, Sofia has been learning to use her independent speech rather than constantly script and/or speak in parables. Scripting is Sofia’s favorite and constant thing to do. The only time she is not scripting is when she’s working on art. Currently, Sofia has accomplished being able to make simple and independent demands verbally. She rarely speaks a different language from English nowadays.
Is there anything else you want to share about Sofia’s autism?
Although Autism doesn’t define our daughter, it is a part of who she is. Sofia is faced with challenges every day due to her Autism; it limits her at times and makes average day tasks immensely difficult. However, Autism has also provided her with amazing strengths, such as the ability to focus intensely, a hawk eye for detail, and a remarkable memory. It takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage to learn how to fit into society norms when you are neurologically different. For that very reason, I applaud every individual on the Autism Spectrum for making an effort every day to co-exist. I applaud every individual on the Autism Spectrum who is out there sharing their gifts and talents with the world. Sofia aims to use her art to help bring awareness to Autism by showing the world that she is different, but not less.
Sofia is a self-taught child artist. Her skills are derived from viewing YouTube tutorials on a loop and spending most of her days sketching. Sofia was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (“ASD”) as a toddler. Although ASD has made it difficult for Sofia to communicate and socialize with others, it has provided her amazing strengths, specifically the ability to focus intensely, a hawk eye for detail, and an excellent visual memory.