Haider Zalloum: 11-year old autistic artist who draws with raw expression

Haider draws about a hundred drawings a day without pre-thought or plan,” Khalid Zalloum, Haider’s father

By Khalid Zalloum from emails to Keri Bowers

At age 3, I decided Haider must talk. I realized through observation that he would make full eye contact of a video of me talking to him through a mobile phone screen, but was unable to sit still to look and learn from me.

Instead, Haider was mesmerized by me talking from behind a window; a phone screen. Something about this caught his attention, but the moment the glass screen was gone, so was his interest. It was then I decided to teach and talk to him through my mobile phone.

With little knowledge of autism, I learned everything I could through the internet and then created a game plan for my son. This plan revolved around speech, language, and cognition.

I figured if Haider learned the meaning of things ~ of everything ~ he would not have a reason not to talk. I was guided to follow my instincts. I took a camera and videotaped his everyday world, including all the things he needed to know.

I once read that an autistic child thinks in concrete terms to where if he saw a picture of a black door and learned that this is a door, then he might not realize that a blue metal door is a door. With that in mind, I took pics of different types of doors, lamps, seats, cars, and everything else I could think of. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, and then at least three times…

“Haider will respond to videos of himself in the real world. He will ‘see’ not just ‘hear’.”

Haider memorized the video verbatim. In perfect sequence, he verbalized each item 3 times as I did in the video. Haider had found a window to words. So, he was shown a literal window and asked “What is this?” he would say “window … window… window.”

I did not see this coming. Not one wonderful bit of it.

We lived in Jordan and because most therapists there did not speak English, I took it upon myself to teach Haider Arabic; my first language. English is my second language. I will share his story and the video that changed his world with you if you like…

Here is the famous video that started out his speech. You will learn Arabic from this if you want LOL.

I also share Haider’s art with you. Haider is able to capture the world around him through his interpretive drawings. He shares his interests, perspectives, and desires through the imagry he creates. These works do not require language; only an observer to interpret their own meanings to the images they behold. As for so many others, art is a gateway to possibilities for Haider. His art speaks for him louder than words ever could.


Haider Zalloum and his twin sister were born on February 17, 2007, in Jordan and now resides in Jacksonville, Florida, where he is in the fifth grade. Haider is a multi-talented 11-year old artist. His God-given gift is a photographic, audio-centric memory and an unique ability to see details the average person does not see. This has given him a perspective that is very special. Haider has the ability to memorize tunes in every pitch and draw characters in a way that makes them look alive. His parents discovered his passion for drawing at age 4. Haider would ask his mom to draw shapes and people. He was enchanted by colors and had the ability to create color from mixing a combination of other colors. Haider draws about a hundred drawings a day without pre-thought or plan. He draws very fast and at one point he drew very small with amazing details. His art is evolving every day to the delight and amazement of his parents.

Haider’s mother, a structural engineer, has dedicated her life to family, children and the development of Haider’s skills along with his father. By the time Haider was in the 3rd grade, he was able to read and write in two languages. Though he is not at the level of his peers, he reads and writes! His lessons are simplified, but his keen memory has helped him to learn about geography, biology, physics, scripture, and math. His most significant challenge is verbal and social communication. Haider has always had a full busy program from school to occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral intervention. Haider does everything in his power to say with words the least possible. Even with his teachers, he does his best to keep them from disturbing his plan, pushing them or anyone away who asks him to do something outside of his artistic obsessions.

Haider is a super boy with a great plan for his life and art.

You can follow Haider on Facebook.

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