DRLC Art Contest Submissions and Winners 2018

Art Contest Submissions
Art of Autism and Disability Legal Rights Center

Artists were asked to submit art with the themes of Inclusion, Disability, Education and Acceptance

All artists are neurodivergent and have identified as Autistic, a person with Down Syndrome, or other disability.

We thank all the artists for their wonderful submissions and the Joe Mantegna family for sponsoring this contest.

The judging was very difficult. We had nine judges – 3 from the Art of Autism, and 5 from the Disability Legal Rights Center and Joel Anderson, guest judge.  When judging, the judges considered the theme of the contest.  The votes were tabulated and we decided to award 3 blue winners with a prize of $100 each from the Joe Mantegna family and the Art of Autism put up another $100 of prize money to give four artists $25 Honorable Mentions. We appreciate all who contributed their art. Every single person should be proud of their entries. The Art of Autism will be sharing on social media the great art over the next month!

$100 Blue Ribbon Prize Winners

Chelsea Dub “Assimilation”
Mitch Christian “Mask the Decay”
Melissa Laneman “All He Needs is a Friend”

$25 Honorable Mentions

Gabby Ledesma “Consumer”
Maranda Russell “Soft Landing”
Carissa Paccerelli “Celebrate and Embrace IDEA”
Harley Weir “Everyone Has A Piece”

Chelsea Dub


Chelsea Dub "Assimilation"
Chelsea Dub “Assimilation”   

This painting is a critique of neurotypical human bias, and how certain minds are not only valued over others, but set as the standard by which all other mind processes must conform. This is represented through the removal of the chicken’s head, which is cast aside to the ground like garbage, and replaced by the head of a parrot, who is considered to be a smarter, and generally more appealing, bird. In so doing, the chicken’s mind becomes marked as undesirable—disposable, even—and the parrot’s mind becomes the instated ideal. The juxtaposition of the nonmatching puzzle pieces serves to illustrate the incompatibility between society’s rigid expectations and reality. This is further emphasized by the forcible, desperate attempt to secure the puzzle piece of the parrot’s head to the chicken’s body with nails. While this Frankensteinian approach may work as a quick fix, there are visible gaps—holes in the logic of the entire attempt—and it ultimately won’t have meaningful or long-lasting success. 
Rather than treating a chicken as a defective creature or an unevolved parrot, each animal and their cognitive process should be respected as valid in their own right. A chicken is well-equipped to navigate the world as a chicken, and a parrot is well-equipped to navigate the world as a parrot. Likewise, how the brains of autistic or otherwise neurodivergent humans are wired is valid, and we are adept at navigating the world in our own ways rather than assimilating into a neurotypical culture that rejects our unique experiences by restricting accessibility.


Chelsea Dub “Stairway to Dissonance”

This painting explores how ableism and speciesism overlap. Other animals are considered to be ‘less than’ because their brains are not wired the same way as humans’, and autistic people are dehumanized because of our differences in neurology. The ear tag strips animals of their dignity as sentient individuals, and similarly, the puzzle piece is often used to marginalize us. Autistic people and other animals are seen as incomplete, or parts of a whole, rather than as individuals with our own thoughts, feelings, and intrinsic value. Both disabled people and other animals are valued only in our utility to others and in others’ ability to understand us. Autistic people and other animals have neurology that deviates from what is considered to be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal,’ and so our way of thinking and perceiving the world is viewed as deficient instead of just different. Furthermore, society correlates sentience with speaking ability, and so nonverbal individuals—including other animals—are assumed to be incapable of having thoughts or feelings and are often taken advantage of because of their inability to express themselves in ways that others readily comprehend.


Chelsea Dub "Loner"
Chelsea Dub “Loner”

Loner is a personal reflection of the isolation I felt while growing up autistic. Despite exhibiting the characteristics of autism during childhood, it was not until September of 2012 (at the age of 22) that I received a formal diagnosis.

During my years in public school, I was given a difficult time by several teachers who took it personally that I was quiet in class, did not make eye contact, and did not smile often (which was due to my blunted affect, a common autism trait). I struggled to fit in socially in school, and I remember during parent-teacher conferences being described by my teachers as a “loner.” That particular school system had a one-size-fits-all education model, which was detrimental to me and my younger brother, who has ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, and younger sister, who is also autistic. Society expects neurodivergent people to conform or assimilate into neurotypical culture, and when we fail to meet these rigid expectations, we are considered to be defective. They lock our minds in cages and wonder why we do not soar.


Taryn Norton


Taryn Norton "Free Me"
Taryn Norton “Free Me”


Art is the moment of creation, and for me it has become my bible.  It envelops my soul, and has become my religion.  It is how I show who I am to the world on paper and canvas, in colors and shades.  Art opens me spiritually, and helps me to connect with the world around me.  It gives me a release for emotions I often cannot express, and helps me to find comfort in my unique place in the world.

I am inspired by music, the moon, quiet, night, long car rides, and sometimes the emotions I feel swirling around me.  It helps me to channel my frustrations, and allows me to create from my mistakes.  Allowing me to find something I never imagined, or intended.  The beauty is often in the initial failure.  Every line is a journey to something you never expect it to be.


Anastasia O’Melveny

Anastasia O'Melveny "St. Francis and the Wolf"
Anastasia O’Melveny “Saint Francis and the Wolf”

The villagers asked Saint Francis to make a ferocious fearsome wolf go away. Instead Francis spoke to wolf who said it was only being fierce because it was hungry. Francis brought the wolf through the gate of the town while the people cowered in their homes. He called out to the people I have come with your wolf and you will feed him from now on. They said he is not our wolf! Francis said he is now! He will change his nature which is to hunt and you will change your nature which is to be afraid. From that point the people took the wolf to a different house every night and fed him well. This is a true story. The wolf is buried in the churchyard in Gubbio, Italy. It also an allegory about strangers and fears.

Carissa Paccerelli


Carissa Paccerelli “Celebrate and Embrace IDEA”

The title of my art piece is “Celebrate and Embrace IDEA”.  IDEA, short for Inclusion Disability Education Acceptance, is the theme of the art contest.   This piece shows a group of special people walking together under a rainbow.   It shows a child with a service dog, amputee girl, blind woman, a boy in a wheelchair, and a teen with a speaking device.   These are only a few examples of the disabilities represented in our society. 

The inspiration of this piece is the song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.  In the song, it says “Somewhere over the rainbow…bluebirds fly…and the dreams that you dream of….dreams really do come true.”  In the disability community, we have dreams!  Our dreams are for inclusion, education, and acceptance; just like everyone else in the society.   The song ends…If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow…why, oh why can’t I?


Harley Weir

Harley Weir “Everyone Has a Piece”

I have been creating art for as long as I can remember and I have always valued it as a tool for interpreting the world around me. As a person with Autism, I used art to express myself when communication was difficult, and to help me make sense of the conflicting sensory input I sometimes received from the world. I start each piece by asking myself what part of my life I can reflect on, or interpret, using my unique experiences and the tools at my disposal. For this work, “Everyone Has a Piece“, I think back to the many teachers, friends and family members who have helped me overcome my limitations and to capitalize on my strengths and abilities. This piece reflects on the differing perspectives that allies can give us, the discoveries they can unearth from the people they care about and support, and the fact that we are all stronger by embracing inclusion.


M. Aquilina Cicerelli

M. Aquilina Cicerelli “Together as One”

“Together As One,” represents my belief that people should be treated equally, regardless of physical or mental disability.


Andrew Bixler

Andrew Bixler “Everybody Rocks”

My work of art expresses my idea that all of us are happier when we dance together!




Jeremy Sicile-Kira “The Beautiful Colors of Justice”

I frankly dreamt that Justice reigned truly over the country proving real peace, safety and liberty for all. Greatly in my dream there was an abundance of the color of purple for the many great leaders that our country has. Blue like the sky, greatly showed the knowledge of a strong, powerful, and resourceful country that we are. Dearly pink represented the love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance that the people of our country should show dearly towards one another.  There was green present for when our country will once again be calm. Truly greatly white was present for the hope of inclusion for all people, especially those with disabilities. Yellow was for the happiness felt by many families that were more aware and educated nicely about the possibilities of creating a life based on one’s ability,  and not frankly based on their disability. Great red was for the belief that Love trumps hate every time, when we truly believe it in our hearts. Yellow-green  represented the happy and calm feeling people get when they can be happy without hate. Truly in my dream, I could see groups of people coming together forming a safer, stronger community frankly represented by indigo. Silver and gold were present, representing  the true hand of God working to insure the freedom of all.

Jeremy Sicile-Kira is an intuitive artist who communicates by typing. He paints dreams of people and ideas into colorful abstract paintings. He sees emotions as colors.



Gabby Ledesma


Gabby Ledesma “Gabby Person” from bigger piece titled “Consumer” (below)


Gabby Ledesmo “Consumer”

“Consumer” examines the language that we use to describe, categorize, label, and measure people with developmental disabilities, and how a thought process rooted in that language affects people with disabilities and our relationship with them. Consumer provides a rare reflective point of view; offering insight as to how the artist and her peers believe they are perceived by others. Consumer uses familiar imagery and common language, combining them in such a way as to cause viewers to consider or reconsider each element – each can, each label, and their own experience with these words in a new light.  Note: “Consumer” is an installation piece that was at the California Museum in 2017. Gabby is looking for venues for this big installation piece.

Gabby Ledesma “Born This Way”


Gabby Ledesma “I love everything about me”

I love music. I love everything about me.


David Kirchoff

David Kirchoff “The Autistic Mind is a Whirlwind of Wisdom”


David Kirchoff “Autistic People we have the same Inner and Outer Framework”

Art is a way for me to explore and communicate.


Emily Brandstedt

Emily Brandstedt “Spectrum Shades”

My idea was to show the different levels of autism in color, with the heart and connections symbolizing acceptance and love between them.


Julia Witymer

Julia Witymer “You Helped Us Come This Far”

Five travelers are looking for the lost blue castle far from their home. They seem hopelessly lost when their glowing blue friend seems to know where to take them and helps the travelers find the mystical structure. Thanks to their special little friend, their journey isn’t over yet and they find themselves almost at their goal. My piece is meant to show that anyone, no matter who we are or where we come from, can have the adventure of a lifetime. The little blue girl in the piece may be different from her other four friends but she helped them come close to their destination. She represents a child on the autism spectrum and is supposed to teach us we can all make friends and go on amazing adventures together.

Mitch Christian

Mitch Christian “Mask the Decay” 

The work represents the hidden fears and anxieties which often accompanied the isolation I used to experience as a result of not fitting in to social groups.




Ally Munroe

Ally Munroe “Social Isolation”

I struggle with ADHD, and Autism. I am currently 13, and I own a pet bird. I am a very bright, and unique person who stands out very differently in my group. “Social Isolation” represents how isolated and alone I feel while having a panic attack, or emotional breakdown. I sit in a void of my anxiety, shutting down from mental pressure, and overwhelming thoughts.


Valerie Casella 

Valerie Casella “Together”


Valerie Casella “Play Nicely”

Valerie Casella’s draws the “inner animal/spirit creature” of the people she meets living as a 14 year old teen with autism.


Leah DeMonia

Leah DeMonia "Demonstrating Diversity"
Leah DeMonia “Demonstrating Diversity”

Demonstrating Diversity shows individuals who all may look differently, but that’s what everyone should embrace. Accept people for who they are because we all matter. One of Leah’s favorite songs is “we all sing with the same voice”.

Leah DeMonia “Inclusion Playbook”

Inclusion playbook shows how everyone is together side by side in a yearbook, and we should use this as a guide, our playbook, to include others in real life. Nobody is excluded from a yearbook, we all have our place. There is room for everyone and everyone fits in no matter who you are.


Austin John Jones

Austin Jones - A prison of the mind
Austin John Jones “A Prison of the Mind”

This painting is a symbolic, visual description of my personal, psychological struggle of what I call: a physical and psychological prison
Sometimes I feel trapped in my own body. It feels like it is on fire. It feels like my brain is burning like a bunch of sharp objects bouncing around in my head. It’s as though my inner soul wants to explode out of my body and roam freely, but my body prevents it from doing so. It is a very intense feeling. It is a true struggle for myself. Sometimes this feeling prevents me from being as social as I want to be. It sometimes even prevents me from unlocking my true potential to be the best person I can be. The figure in the middle is me. The crowd surrounding me in the background is the rest of the world that I feel isolated from. I am full of color and feeling, waiting to burst out. But the world around me creates a bubble that locks me in a psychological prison that keeps me inside this “bubble.”


Ronaldo Byrd

Ronaldo Byrd “Unity”


Ronaldo Byrd “Abilities”


Ronaldo Byrd "Hanging Out"
Ronaldo Byrd “Hanging Out”

“I am an artist who happens to be on the Autistic Spectrum. My bold and bright colors represent the way I see the world. There is beauty in everything I see and everyone has something to offer, no matter their race, color, ethnicity or “disability”. My art and I represent differences, and my hope is that the world can see beauty and acceptance through my eyes”.

Ian Winters


Ian Winters “Drawing the Line”

Ian Winters is a 17-year-old boy from Chicago. He likes drawing using pencils on paper, and is currently influenced by 1930’s cartoons and Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures. He will be starting his junior year at Amundsen High School in the International Baccalaureate career program, that focuses on design using 3D printers and technology.


Melissa Laneman


Melissa Laneman “All he sees is a friend!”

I came up with the idea because my Weiner dog, Schnitzel was recently diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease. I was concerned he would need wheel chair legs in the future. He is a very friendly dog and likes meeting other dogs.




Maranda Russell

Maranda Russell “Self Acceptance”

This abstract artwork was inspired by all the different facets of myself that I feel all add a bit to who I am overall. The reason the head of the figure has so many rings of different color is because there are so many layers to who I am. Yes, I am autistic. Yes, I struggle with mental and physical ailments. Yes, I am creative and talented. Yes, I am loyal and loving. Yes, I am intelligent and curious. Yes, I have endured a great deal of trauma and heartache, but I have survived. I want to be able to accept myself – ALL of myself – as I am. All put together, I’m a pretty colorful person!

Maranda Russell “A Soft Place to Land”

I’ve endured a lot of bullying, ridicule, prejudice, and ignorance throughout my life. These experiences have toughened me up in some ways, but they also created a deep desire for “a soft place to land” – somewhere I will be accepted and loved as I am without having to worry about judgmental attitudes or harsh rebukes.

Daqua Simmons

Daqua Simmons “Dancing”

My name is Daqua Simmons and I make art because I believe in the cultural history and the aspect of being a black man in the art game. I use art to tell the world how I feel inside and to express being one with myself and the world. I use it to defeat all odds that stand in my way.

Selkie Taylor


Selke Taylor “I am Damaged Not Broken”

My name is Selkie Taylor Im 14 years old and nonbinary. I suffer from depression and am on the autism spectrum. I’m entering this contest because I’m trying to learn and grow and hopefully this will help me out of my comfort zone. I struggle with depression and self worth issues and I created this piece to show that my mistakes don’t define me and that I won’t let my depression take over my life. 


Nathan Nichols


Nathan Nichols “Butterflies”

One of Nathan’s his favorite themes is painting Rainbow image , which is depicted In the colors he chose In his Butterflies.

Nathan Nichols “Collage” 

Collage represents a sense of inclusion and belonging


Nathan Nichols “Self-Portrait – Surfing”

Nathan is mostly non-speaking. He enjoys all types of sports.


Wen of Zen

Wen of Zen “May I”

With my hand reaching out, I desire to be included: into nature, into society, and into myself.


Wen of Zen “Blended Beauty”

Same sentiment as the hand reaching out, but with a flower.

Pamela Urfer

Pamela Urfer “Jesus and the Eunuchs”

The pastel drawing submitted is “Jesus and the Eunuchs,” with Jesus inviting three trans people to have coffee and tell him their stories.

Pam Urfer “Jesus and the Nobodies”


Pam Urfer “Jesus and the Homies” Jesus is hanging out with the disaffected.

I am a seventy-five year old woman living on the spectrum. My symptoms have receded as I’ve grown older but it’s been a long, interesting journey. I’ve been involved in the arts and theater my whole life. I have been happily married for fifty-two years and have three children and five grandchildren.


Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols “We Are All Stars”


Alex Nichols “We Are All Connected”


Alex Nichols “The Garden of Books”

Danielle Linder

Danielle Linder “Art Love”

I make art work because I love it and that’s how I express myself. It also keeps me busy and focused. I made this piece to represent that everyone can love and make art.

Baylie Nixon


Baylie Nixon “Many Stories, One Necklace”

Many Stories, One Necklace is probably one of the most difficult and intricate pieces I have ever crafted. All the beads are hand painted, and I also took the time to make the paper beads as well. The pendant is a schoolhouse made from paint and clay, all sealed in resin. The larger wooden beads, especially the ones closer to the centerpiece, are all each painted to represent the theme of this contest: disability, inclusion, acceptance, and education. I have been a strong advocate for autistic inclusion since I was a junior in high school.  It is a long necklace, meant to be worn with tops that are close to one’s collar.


John Emanuele

John Emanuele “Birds”

My name is John Emanuele and I enjoy making art. My pieces usually are hectic and involve a lot of lines. The birds in this piece represent finding peace and coming together.

Reagan Azan

Reagan Azan “Kite”

Reagan is a non-verbal boy on the Autism spectrum who expresses himself most vividly through his artwork. Two years ago, he picked up markers and paint to draw for hours at a time — and while every piece of art is increasingly stunning over the years, at times he becomes consumed with a picture in his mind that he has get out on paper. “Kite” was one of those moments; he imagined it to life with 99-cent-store paints and the little stick brush it comes with. The colors are so vivid and the shapes carry so much meaning. His mother asked him what it was and he said “kite.” Because Reagan is non-verbal, we have to think about the world and language his way. A kite is something fluttering in the sky, and the figures in this piece who carry such a nomadic spirit, are all focused on a collective experience. Since “kite” was produced with quickly-fading cheap watercolors on printer paper, we quickly shipped it off to a photographer to flatten the piece and capture a high resolution image we could share.

Bonnie Appel

Bonnie Appel “Best Friends, The Butterfly And The Phaleonopsis Orchid”


Bonnie Appel “Unusual But Beautiful, Dutchmans Breaches, An Endangered Wild North American Plant”

I’ve been creating artwork since I was 3 years old. My mother brought out my talent for art one day at age 3 when I was having a meltdown. She put a pencil and paper in front of me in hopes of calming me down as a constructive way to express myself. Her exact words to me were “This is a pencil and paper. These will always be your best friends. They will be there to help you express yourself in a constructive way and whenever you need them they will always be there for you. From now on whenever you feel happy, angry, scared or upset go find them and don’t ever forget them. Use them well and you will go on to create great treasures with them for years to come.” I have been doing so ever since.

Hunter Trost


Hunter Trost Photograph of “Inverted Fountain”

The photo above is a picture of the Inverted Fountain at UCLA. My sister was visiting the college and it inspired me to believe that I could also attend college one day. This year Hunter will be attending Columbia College Hollywood.


Daniel Winarsky

Daniel Winarsky "Gaining the Knowledge to Rise Above"
Daniel Winarsky “Gaining the Knowledge to Rise Above”


Daniel Winarsky “Biggest Fish in the Sea”


Daniel Winarsky "Bred for Strength"
Daniel Winarsky “Bred for Strength”

Daniel Winarsky is mixed media artist residing in Colt Neck, NJ. He works in his home studio painting and drawing mainly animals.



Richard Gonzalez


Richard Gonzalez “Pop in Planet”

Color me happy in my pop n planet.


Richard Gonzalez “My Red and Blue DNA”

My red and blue DNA. Red because I am beautiful. Blue because I am intelligent.

Richard Gonzalez "Beautiful Sunset"
Richard Gonzalez “Beautiful Sunset”


I have a Samsung J3 prime phone. I used my index finger to do these drawings. I want you to have fun seeing my drawings. I am 17 years old and love to draw. I am soon to be a high school graduate. My dream is to work for an animation studio.

Johnny Velasquez


Johnny Velasquez “Jack Frost”

My name is Johnny Velasquez I’m 28 year I have autism and this is my my drawing of Jack Frost.


Masha Gregory

Masha Gregory "Horse Running"
Masha Gregory “The Running Horse”


Masha Gregory Tiger
Masha Gregory “Tiger” Photography


Masha Gregory Hexagon Snowflake
Masha Gregory “Hexagon Snowflake”

 I am 28 years old and I have been doing drawing and Photography … my favorite subject is Animals to photograph and bugs and portraits and I draw from my photography.



0 replies on “DRLC Art Contest Submissions and Winners 2018”