Art, Autism and Motherhood

Contributed by Autism Alliance of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee

Gwen, Rylan’s mother, said that Rylan was adopted at 3 weeks old.  He was a typical baby, but once he started school the challenges started. Rylan was diagnosed with ASD and Tourette’s.  In Kindergarten, he went to a private Christian school in Colorado and management was challenging for the school, mom and Rylan. Shortly afterward, mom changed careers going from a full time Marketing/Public Relations professional to Rylan’s full-time Independent Living Project Manager.

After lots of challenges she decided to take Rylan out for a semester in 4th grade.  During this time they met Mrs. Lennon who told Rylan he could do an Art Show in her studio.  The original idea was to create a Pokemon exhibit, but Gwen said “absolutely not”. When I asked, Rylan stated the Pokemon, Snorlax, best describes him and Gwen felt his Pokemon obsession would leave time for little else.

So, instead she and Rylan decided to draw pictures about what it was like for him each day.  About 2 years later this art exhibit turned into a book called If I Squeeze Your Head: I’m Sorry”The book was transcribed by Gwen and illustrated by Rylan who confesses that he can’t draw hands. One of their favorite chapters is “The Sponge of Squeezing” in this chapter Rylan says “I love to squeeze things that are alive.” 

Gwen said, “when I started letting him dictate the course of his life things became easier.” She also confessed that they do not attend as many therapies as they once did. To make sure they both stay in tune with building community (of at least 3) and plotting their own course, Gwen is opening a bookstore–and believe it or not, after a lot of hard work and dedication,  the store is opening on Mother’s Day weekend. 

While being a mother is challenging, creatively different, and awe inspiring, it is in these moments that we begin to look at the many blessings of parenting and realize that our children define the people we are.  The bookstore will be a place for families to come and feel the community embrace them for who they are.

Thank you Gwen and Rylan for allowing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) share your story.

If you would like to purchase “If I Squeeze Your Head: I’m Sorry”you can order it directly from the bookstore at:

To talk with Rylan and Gwen and to hear more about the book AAOM will be hosting a book club night in June. Date TBD

The bookstore is located at 1035 Wealthy St Grand Rapids MI.