2006 Article by Author Susie Gallucci
Apopka MY TOWN Magazine
Apopka Artist Turns Challenge Into Opportunity
By Susie Gallucci
Often, we don’t even know about the greatness that exists in our own community. If I were speaking to you as a group, I would ask, “How many of you can find the world-renowned artist in this room?” Most would not find her. She looks and dresses like you and me. She talks like the friendly lady in the grocery store. She even orders the same plates of food that everyone else does at a restaurant. However, when you put a paintbrush in her hand, she doesn’t paint like everyone else. Born with the gift to produce world-class creativity on canvas, Amy Sellers lives right here in Apopka!
After years of near-seclusion in her home, Amy, 41, is beginning to get noticed - and not just around the greater Orlando area, but around the world. She paints in the cave of her home, and used to sell each masterpiece on the Internet. Now, the same emotional and detailed art she was producing for Internet customers fetch upwards of $10,000 a piece. So how did she do it? She reached inside of herself to use her gift to benefit others. Allow me to explain.
Describing her life as challenged would be an understatement. She has three sons, Asa, 10, Andrew, 8, and Sam, 5. Her middle son has autism. When I met Amy last year, I was searching for an artist to paint the characters for my motivational children’s book series, the Ican Clan. While living in Colorado, a Michigan man told me about Amy. I called and told her about my vision to give children a bigger belief in themselves through my characters named Believe and Dream Ican.
“I love your idea,” she exclaimed, “and I want to illustrate your books!” She told me about her son with autism and how the proceeds from all her artwork benefit her charity to help him and other children with the same challenges. I knew this woman was on a mission and couldn’t wait to get to know her.
Life with autism in the family
I soon learned why Amy rarely leaves her home. Sometimes, when she goes to the local WalMart with her son, he throws obnoxious tantrums in the store and lies down in the middle of the floor. “It is so embarrassing when you have a child that makes a scene out of everything,” notes Amy. “I usually just don’t go anywhere and would rather stay at home and paint.”
After making the move from the dry mountains of Colorado Springs, Colorado to the humid flatland of Apopka, Florida, I got to know Amy and her family better. Not only was I blown away by the hundreds of Amy’s phenomenal paintings in her home, but by her amazing strength as well. After observing her children, I realized just how challenging life was for her.
My public outing with Andrew
I decided to try it one day for myself. My husband and I gave Amy and her husband an afternoon of respite from the challenges they face raising their children. I knew what I was in for because I’ve taken children to public places on many occasions – or so I thought.
We went out for a nice ice cream treat. When it was time to leave Baskin Robbins, I helped Andrew throw away his trash. “NO!” Tears erupted from his eyes as he began screaming. “I want water! Susie is a bad person! Susie is not nice!” What just happened? I was trying to help! I ordered another water cup. I turned around and Andrew was lying in the middle of the floor in a big X. Customers were walking in and staring at me as if I was the worst mother on the planet. I had no choice but to pry his body off the floor and hold his hand all the way out to the car. He resisted and screamed all the way through the parking lot. This was just one example of the dozen that caught me by surprise in only two hours.
So this is what it’s like to live with an autistic child? How does Amy manage to survive in her world? “I take it one day at a time. Even one hour at a time. In those times, when I can’t handle it any more, I am blessed with a supportive husband who is willing to step in and take over.” I had a new respect for what Amy faces on a daily basis. Leaving the house is hard work!
When Andrew was diagnosed with autism at four years of age, her first reaction was twofold. “I wasn’t sure what the word autism meant and I was extremely scared.” She looked at a brochure from the Center For Autism And Related Disabilities (CARD) that showed the 20 common characteristics for autism. Her son had all of them. “I felt like I was reading a mini biography of my son. I became extremely sad and felt helpless and desperate,” she recalls.
Currently, there is no cure for autism, but therapy is available. Amy notes that it is vital to have children diagnosed as early as possible in order to begin therapies while the child’s brain is still developing. Her son was diagnosed early enough and received therapies that have enabled him to be in a mainstreamed classroom in school.
Writing and illustrating her own books
While many people would stay home and succumb to the challenges, Amy has continued to hone and sharpen her art skills. Just sixteen months ago, everything changed for the gifted artist when she wrote a rhyming story and illustrated it for Andrew.
“Andrew had read and memorized all of the Dr. Seuss books and needed some more books. I thought, ‘It’s easier for me to write and illustrate a new book than to take my difficult-to-handle son to the library.’ I can rhyme and I can paint, so I wrote a collection of stories and painted illustrations for my son.”
Andrew loved the stories! Her oldest son, Asa, suggested that she get the books published. He said, “We can sell the books and make lots of money so that we can live in a big, fancy house and wear lots of fancy clothes.”
“Brilliant idea!” exclaimed Amy, “But instead of using the money for those things, let’s use the money to help your brother and other children who have autism.”
What a blessing that she has the talent and drive to create such beautiful works of art! Being stuck at home dealing with her son’s challenges is hard work, but what an amazing person she is to turn the situation around and make it an opportunity to reach out and help others.
She is now the illustrator of five published children’s books. Her art has been featured in the Apopka Town Hall and in her own art show in Winter Park. 100% of the proceeds from all of her books and artwork benefit the Out of the Rain Society, the charity she began in March of 2005 to find the cure for autism. Now, the talented Sellers pokes her head in seminars around the country and has quickly become known as an amazing illustrator and advocate for her cause.
Out of the Rain Society
Amy uses her art as a personal healing agent and one of the main sources of funding for her charity. “I named it the Out of the Rain Society because in people with severe autism, when it’s raining, they can see every rain drop and literally cannot see beyond the rain.” The society’s mission is to assist children and families affected by autism and to partner with other organizations to exchange ideas, data, and strategies on autism research.
Amy’s children’s books include the first three books in my Ican Clan Adventures series. She has ten more children’s books in production, but this time, she’s the author, too. All of Amy’s books and some artwork can be purchased at www.AmySellers.com.
What’s next for Amy? “My goal is to have six of the books that I wrote and illustrated be published in the next 12 months. We’re also introducing the new system that is gathering data from parents of children with autism for experts to study.” Soon, she plans to begin building the first Out of the Rain Autism Assistance Center in Orlando. Her goal is to raise $1.6 million within the next five years. Sound lofty? Not for a woman on a mission with her track record of results!