WALKER — Christopher Vise is using art to help him overcome his disabilities and is now teaching others with disabilities that anything is possible.
“I want people to know that you can overcome these disabilities in every way,” said the 2014 National/International Yes I Can Award recipient for fine art.
Vise, a recent graduate from Walker High School, also won the 2013 Louisiana Yes I Can award. The awards are given to exceptional youths with disabilities, according to the website for the Council for Exceptional Children.
“Christopher, 18, uses his artistic talents to express his emotions, to work through the challenges life presents and as a motivator to achieve his academic goals,” the website says. “He is a gifted artist whose drawings have been recognized in community competitions, accolades that have helped give him confidence in his art and in his life.”
Vise wasn’t always willing to express his emotions, and his shy demeanor left him feeling anything but confident. Vise was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was 3 years old and Asperger’s syndrome when he was 11.
The disorders caused a range of symptoms for Vise, including aggressiveness and a lack of desire to socialize with other children his age.
His mother, Cindy Lewis, immediately recognized the warning signs. Her oldest son, now 24, has severe Asperger’s, a form of autism and a type of pervasive developmental disorder.
She enrolled Vise in special education classes when he was a toddler, and the classes, combined with medicine, brought Vise out of his shell, she said. He also started focusing on God.
Lewis credits early intervention for her son’s success and recommends other parents get help if they suspect something is wrong with their child.
“So many parents want to turn a blind eye to it,” said Lewis, an educator. “They don’t want to hear that something is wrong. But look at Chris; it’s amazing. I’m so happy it (early intervention) helped him.”
She recommends that parents get help if their child is getting into trouble, having trouble with school work, or is being bullied by other children.
She said many children with autism run on the balls of their feet, don’t make eye contact, fidget with their hands and take everything literally.
Thanks to early intervention, Vise said he slowly “started realizing that others have needs.”
“Chris is an unusually kind person who is always ready to help others,” said Ray McCon, Chris’ pastor at Walker Baptist Church. “His generosity and compassion are his greatest strengths.”
Art has helped Vise express himself and show his emotions, he said.
“I can place my emotions into it,” Vise said. “I enjoy myself, and it takes my mind off of my problems.”
To be considered for the award, Vise submitted a portfolio of his artwork, which he and his mother hand-selected from drawings he’s done since he was a small child.
The artwork — a mix of drawing, paintings and mixed media — included Vise’s favorites.
Vise began drawing stick figures at age 2 but quickly began improving his skills and creating more complex artwork. He was in the gifted art program from second to 12th grade, and has received an award at the Livingston Parish Gifted Art Show at least five times, Lewis said.
“He’s surpassed me,” Lewis said, who has a degree in art. “I think it’s just a God-given gift.”
“The realism and creativity of Chris’ artwork usually takes others by surprise,” McCon said. “They do not expect this soft-spoken, unassuming guy to produce such detail and beauty almost at a whim. I feel that his talent has given him a special place of admiration with his peer group that he might otherwise have not enjoyed.”
In addition to creating art when he’s not doing school work, Vise said he loves encouraging others, like Lewis encouraged him, and helping them build confidence.
“It isn’t just all about me,” Vise said. “It’s about them and their affection for art.”
Vise plans to attend a technical college and study drafting, a career that gives him the ability to use his affinity for art, he said. He also wants to create art that can be donated to charities and sold so they can raise much-needed funds.
“While Chris recognizes his disability, he refuses to let it slow him down,” McCon said. “In the years that he has been a part of our youth group here at Walker Baptist, instead of being less active because of how he is different, he has risen to a position of respect and leadership because of his unique insights. He often sees issues more clearly than the average student and can articulate this in ways that make other students stop and think more.”
The award “showed me that, yes, I can overcome my obstacles and disabilities and achieve anything,” Vise said.
“I’m a symbol for everyone, everywhere that they can achieve great things even with a disability,” he said.