Last year in fourth grade, Wesley Elkind had a brainstorm with his drawing teacher and mom. He wanted to work on an art-related project, but wasn’t quite sure what subject to choose. His teacher suggested that Wesley consider working on an issue that is personal to him, like autism. With an older brother on the autism spectrum, the idea made perfect sense to Wesley. “I wanted to talk about things that people didn’t understand about autism,” Wesley, now 10, explained. “Bob” the comic strip that he created does just that, in a most winsome and matter of fact way.
Donning a red pop-pom hat and a soft, alert gaze, Bob, who is on the spectrum, appears ready for an adventure. He plays football, dances, skis and basically seeks fun and mischief with his brother, Rob. What makes Bob special are his superhero traits. Seen through a conventional lens, these traits would appear to be typical barriers for a person with autism, but as rendered by young Wesley, they are characteristics that make Bob extraordinary. Like many with autism, Bob is sensitive to noise. His excellent hearing saves the day on a ski trip when he is able to hear an avalanche far away and save his friends from it. Although Bob has a hard time making friends, he overcomes his inhibitions in another comic and decides to join in the fun, which led to more invitations from his friends.
Through Bob, Wesley has also explored how to be with someone with autism. In one strip, Bob’s non-stop dancing and verbal ticks cause his brother, Rob, extreme embarrassment. When an angel appears on the brother’s shoulder to remind him that Bob is just being himself, the brother changes his perspective and joins Bob’s dance with glee. In another strip, Wesley sweetly shows what it might mean when a person with autism attempts to process less concrete, metaphorical expressions. Rob claims that he’s so hungry he could eat a horse. In the same frame, we see Bob puzzling to understand, imagining that literally eating a horse might hurt the horse.
“This projects has helped give Wesley a better understanding of how Spencer (his older brother) sees the world and why certain things are harder for Spencer than for the rest of us,” said Wesley’s mom, Christine Lai. The boys used to draw comics together when they were younger. She hopes that in between playing video games and Legos, they will return to drawing together in the future.
For now, Wesley plans to continue with Bob’s adventures. Last April, he won first prize in his age group from the Connecticut Autism Action Coalition’s autism awareness contest and donated the $250 prize to New York Collaborates for Autism. For his next project, Wesley is working on a poster that he plans to display around his town. It will include suggestions for how to include people who are different by inviting them to sit at your lunch table or join a football game.
Most exciting for NYCA are the two commissioned greeting cards that Wesley has made for us, including a holiday eCard currently available here and an animated video of Bob spreading NYCA’s message of empowerment and inclusion. Wesley is, indeed, NYCA’s superhero, albeit with typical 10-year-old interests. His favorite subjects in school are graphic arts and math. He loves playing and watching basketball, and his favorite player is Jeremy Lin, because he likes the idea that you can be Asian, go to Harvard and play in the NBA!
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