Rosemary Stephens self-discovery through art

By Debra Hosseini

“It’s about pushing boundaries and experimenting for me, just like in real life to get a better outcome.”

Rosemary Stephens
Rosemary Stephens

Rosemary Stephens from East London, became aware of her own autism six years ago when her son James was diagnosed with Aspergers. Before then she spent years trying to figure out why she felt like “a square peg in a round hole.”

As a child Rosemary was mostly nonverbal, speaking only to a few people whom she knew well. Because she had difficulty understanding social queues, she was teased and bullied in school.

Her family was poor yet gave her much freedom to explore. She spent hours creating her own toys and entertainment.

Rosemary felt as if she was “a girl from a foreign land.” Loud noises, such as the vacuum and trains caused her distress. Smells, such as aftershave and cat food, nauseated her. Scratchy clothes and labels bothered her sensitive skin. Bright lights gave her migraines. She avoided being touched keeping her distance from others.

Rosemary Stephens "Girl in a Foreign Land"
Rosemary Stephens “Girl in a Foreign Land”

Because of her extreme sensitivities, she suffered from severe panic attacks where her body would freeze, her heart would race and she felt as if she couldn’t breathe. This happened especially when she was in crowds or high places.

She was taught emotional outbursts were a sign of weakness. So even when distressed, she tried to look as if nothing was wrong. Trying to be “normal” took its toll.

As a young adult she found a group who was as unsociable, rebellious and outrageous as she. Becoming a punk rocker, she rode a motorbike and searched charity stores for unique retro clothing. She moved out of her home when she was only eighteen.

Still she was beset with anxieties. Her social phobias made it hard to hold down a job.

Psychiatrists prescribed anti-depressants which made her feel even worse. She would work on resolving one fear and another would pop up.

On her own she found riding a bicycle to be her best therapy. The motion of the bicycle soothed her. She could escape her pervasive thoughts when riding.

Despite all, she was able to raise two boys independently. Her sons are now 17 and 14, and both are on the spectrum.

After James, her eldest, was diagnosed she read with relief Rudy Simone’s Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome. The book gave her answers to many of the questions which plagued her. It was freeing to know that she wasn’t alone. Neurologically, she was wired differently.

With her newfound insights, she’s finally now able to embrace the positive aspects of autism. Rosemary feels autism helps her creativity by giving her a unique outlook. This can be seen in her art.

A year ago, Rosemary picked up a paintbrush deciding she was going to do something for herself. This lead to a year of experimenting with different media, tools and art techniques. It also was a year of processing her emotions and learning to follow her moods with paint. Her art became a refuge where she became less dependent on external models and more in tune with her inner self.

Rosemary’s persistence and talent has enabled her to create an amazing portfolio of art.

Rosemary Stephens "Freedom"
Rosemary Stephens “Freedom”

A self-taught artist, Rosemary started out painting from photographs of animals she loved. It was natural that her first painting was of a goose because she spent many hours watching the geese at a lake by her home.

Rosemary Stephens "Peace in the City"
Rosemary Stephens “Peace in the City”

The next stage of her art was varying the colors from the photographs she used as a guide to paint from. She then painted portraits of people and animals who inspired her, trying to capture their essence. At this stage, she became less concerned with the visual accuracy of the piece.

Music to My Ears
Music to My Ears

One day she picked up her pastels, and drew a crowd of people very quickly from her imagination. She was pleased with the results. Before then, she had believed she needed a model to duplicate.

Now she creates abstract paintings with bright colors without a guide or model.

“I have discovered a new style of creativity recently … It’s about picking up a pencil without a clear picture in my mind of what I want to draw and making it up as I go along, like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I draw a line and work from that.”

Rosemary’s art is a metaphor for her life.

“It’s about pushing boundaries and experimenting for me, just like in real life to get a better outcome.”

Recently Rosemary has started to paint her anxieties. For example, one of her images depicts the emotions she feels when riding a train. This helps her to process her fears.

Train Journey
Train Journey

“I feel my creativity has been locked inside me for many years unable to be accessed efficiently. It spills over into other things like clothes, music, photography and hairstyles,” she says.

Rosemary feels her autism has helped her be a better parent to her own sons who have similar issues. She has challenged herself to attend interviews and meetings on their behalf becoming an effective advocate.

Rosemary Stephens "Joy"
Rosemary Stephens “Joy”

Rosemary has shown her art at her local church and in California with The Art of Autism. With so much new art, she hopes to have a solo exhibit in the near future. To view or purchase more of Rosemary’s art, visit her Facebook page at Art and Soul by Rosemary Stephens or email her at

Rosemary Stephens "Whispers"
Rosemary Stephens “Whispers”

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