The best part is that he was excited. He doesn't show many emotions so this was a real breakthrough for him."
Discovering one's own talent is thrilling no matter the age. But to 15-year-old Todd Godfrey, of Athens, Tenn., discovering his passion for drawing has been a godsend.
Todd, diagnosed with autism at 12 years old, draws geometric designs on wood. It's a newfound talent that is not only turning into a business, it's given Todd a sense of purpose, says his mom, Donna Godfrey.
Even though there's no advertising -- it's all word of mouth -- Todd is happy to keep up with the demand, says Godfrey, who adopted Todd when he was 6 years old. She and her husband have two biological children and three adopted ones.
"Many times, he has asked me, 'What am I good at?'" she recalls. "Although I responded with many things, drawing on these blocks has given him a strong sense of accomplishment. Becoming a parent, whether biologically or by adoption, we are still responsible for the well-being of our children."
Todd is selective in his conversation, talking easily to family but often declining to speak to strangers, so interviewing him is not always possible. His mother answers questions about him and his art.
Though he was a "doodler" at school and at home, it was a teacher who noticed that all Todd's drawings were geometric designs, Godfrey says.
"I learned that an autistic trait is to draw geometric shapes, and it was exactly what Todd was doing. It started out pretty basic at first and then he progressed to drawing more intricate designs that looked like mazes. I bought colored pencils and he started coloring in between the lines and it looked really cool," she says.
"The best part is that he was excited. He doesn't show many emotions so this was a real breakthrough for him," Godfrey says. "He also likes getting paid."
Utilizing blocks of wood salvaged from a downed oak tree in their yard, Todd has created nearly 250 pieces of art to date. After he completes his colorful designs, his mom seals each piece with coats of polyurethane. The pieces range in cost from a $1 ornament to a $10 necklace.
Todd, a student at McMinn Central High School, is increasing his inventory now that school is out for the summer. He creates around one piece of art every day. His goal, however, is to stockpile enough to sell at an arts festival.
Seeing Todd's pride in his art has been phenomenal, Godfrey says.
Last spring he drew a design for the T-shirt for McMinn County's Special Olympics.
"The rules for the contest was to only use three colors," his mother says. "Todd did not like that rule, but he entered a drawing and won. His picture was printed on the T-shirts."
Though Todd is the artist, the process of creating it is a mother/son effort.
"I do all the cutting, sanding, polyurethaning, assembling, photography," Godfrey says.
There's also another a positive side effect of his art. Math.
"He gets all the money. He is learning how to divide the money up for personal purchases, savings and buying supplies," she says.
Godfrey says that, though it's doubtful Todd will ever be completely independent, she hopes his art will help him to achieve some level of self-confidence.
"We do not feel Todd will be able to live totally independent. He will, at the least, need someone overseeing his budget, medical and housing," Godfrey says. "We never want Todd to use his disabilities as an excuse, but to show and encourage others to find what they are 'good at' and run with it."
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396.