This article was published on the website of Santa Barbara Newsroom, an experimental project launched by a group of journalists.
(Originally published on April 7, 2007)
Perhaps like many artists, Kevin Hosseini can get frustrated to the point of hurling his paintbrush across the room when a piece isn’t coming together.
But unlike others, the 12-year-old Carpinteria resident benefits from a one-word reminder neatly handwritten on a note next to his easel: “Calm.”
Kevin was diagnosed at an early age with autism, a developmental disability related to the central nervous system that can cause people to become easily over-stimulated. But that hasn’t stopped Kevin from finding success.
A gifted oil painter, the sixth-grader at Carpinteria Family School has sold about 15 pieces to patrons who live as far away as New York City, as well as closer to home, including Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and state Assemblyman Pedro Nava.
Until May 11, he will have a painting displayed at the Carpinteria Valley Arts Council (http://www.artscarp.org/), at 855 Linden Ave. And on May 12, he will be one of 28 artists featured in Carpinteria’s first-ever home studio tour.
Kevin discovered his passion by accident about two years ago, when his behavioral therapist, Colin Zimbleman, who’s also an artist, came to the house with a canvas and paintbrush in the hopes of finding a fun activity that would bring a therapeutic effect.
It worked. In addition to the artistic success, Kevin still benefits from the lessons of life learned through painting. For instance, sometimes life is messy – sometimes you drop your brush on the floor and leave a splotch that needs cleaning. The key, Zimbleman tells him, is to solve the problem one step at a time: get a paper towel, get it wet, rub the floor clean, throw the towel away.
“Then it’s not some big heavy thing,” he said.
Painting became an obsession. Kevin’s body of work grew so large that the family started selling the paintings at modest prices for lack of space on the walls, said his mother, Debbie Hosseini. So far, he’s made a total of about $2,500 — not a bad stipend for a 12-year-old.
“He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so he gets satisfaction from his art,” she said, while sitting in the kitchen, as Kevin dabbed away on a brightly colored abstract painting of Bob Marley in the adjacent room. “Also, the recognition he gets is satisfying – people see him as a capable person.”
Every year, one in 150 children is diagnosed with autism. The disorder is especially prevalent among boys – one in 94. Twenty years ago, for reasons researchers have yet to decipher, the rate was one in 10,000.
Debbie and her husband, Carpinteria Sanitary District Financial Director Hamid Hosseini, started noticing something amiss with their son when he was around 2 years old.
He started forgetting words that he had learned; his vocabulary dwindled from about 75 words to 25. He became obsessed with lining up his toys in neat rows, and with watching water pour out of a hose. He started having gastro-intestinal problems.
As a toddler, Kevin would escape from the house at night and run into the darkness. At the time, the family lived near a creek in Carpinteria.
“One time I had 10 people out looking for him,” said Debbie, an accountant and computer programmer. “I was afraid he had drowned in the creek.”
Some of the episodes were scary. Once, when he was 4, the pair was on the freeway and he started acting up from the back seat. He wanted her to stay in the fast line, because he was fascinated with the yellow line.
“He started throwing things at my head, and he got out of his car seat, yelling ‘Yellow line! Yellow line!’ ” she said. “He tried to open the van’s back door.”
Now, thanks to years of behavioral therapy, Kevin is better able to control himself, and his parents are better trained in dealing with the tantrums. The biggest lesson: Do not respond to a child’s tantrum by giving him what he wants – until he settles down.
But Debbie said she learned another, perhaps even more valuable lesson: Don’t just treat the weaknesses – focus on the strengths, too.
“He’s developed a skill that maybe he can use later on, instead of bagging up groceries,” she said. “Something that he’s passionate about.”
As for Zimbleman, who spends five hours a week with Kevin free of charge – his costs are covered by the Tri-Counties Regional Center — said he was blown away by Kevin’s natural ability as an artist.
“He’s got a Kevin style – people can see that,” he said. “Between the color, texture, the technique he uses, the subject matter – it all just kind of fits,” he said. “His work has a gut-level intensity to it.”
Click here to see more of Kevin’s art.