- Associated Press - Saturday, December 2, 2017

MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) - When the school day starts at Moscow High School, 15-year-old sophomore Rudy Vandersteen can be found at the whiteboard in Cory Voss’ special education classroom, drawing whatever comes to his mind.

“No one tells him to do it, it’s just his thing he likes to do,” said Kelli Sowa, a paraprofessional in the classroom. “It’s different every day.”

Recently, his picture of the day was an alien. On another day, it was a cat.

“You have no idea what will come - it’s so creative,” Sowa said.

Vandersteen, who is on the autism spectrum, likes to draw, as his teachers have discovered. They have been working with him to develop the talent into something he may be able to use for a career.

“With our students, we are trying to figure out how to take their strengths and make them into job skills,” Sowa said.

To develop Vandersteen’s talent, his teachers assist him in interviewing subjects about their interests. With their help, he asks them about their favorite foods, their favorite cartoon characters and Disney movies, what they like to do at home and what makes them feel happy.

“Character profiles help him to make an image of his subject,” Sowa said. “He’s drawn almost everyone here. He’s just a fun character.”

When drawing character profiles, Vandersteen, who is left-handed, will often comment to his subjects.

“Oh honey, that looks gorgeous,” he told one last week, while examining her features for his drawing.

If a person is in front of him or if he has a picture of him or her on a computer or phone or printed out, he can draw the subject.

To play on Vandersteen’s strength, his teachers have been using his drawing skills in English and math lessons as well. For English, he creates comic strips. He draws them and then tells Sowa or another paraprofessional what he wants to write.

“We write down his stories with the comics he draws,” Sowa said.

For math, Vandersteen draws pictures to go with numbers. Hanging on the classroom wall are various numbers and pictures he has created. For the No. 2, Dr. Seuss’ Thing 2 character hangs up, while the No. 7 is shown with the seven dwarfs from “Snow White.”

Another project he is working on involves coffee mugs. Teachers at MHS can purchase a mug, and Vandersteen will draw on it for them. Those who work with him are hoping to help him work with local businesses to complete window art.

“It’s a big part of who he is,” Sowa said. “We want to bring some more independence into his life and maybe even some earning power.”

His mother, Naomi Vandersteen, said he began drawing around the age of 2, about the same time he was diagnosed with autism. Drawing, she said, helps with his autism.

“It seemed to be the one thing that worked with his autism. It would calm him down,” she said. “So we just bought him tons of art supplies.”

Naomi said she has loved seeing Rudy’s art work progress through the years.

“It used to be that he would copy a picture in front of him, and now he can draw from his head,” she said.

She noted he prefers to draw with markers, but his work with a pencil is excellent.

“If he has a pencil, he can draw you to a T, every wrinkle, everything,” Naomi said.

Naomi said Rudy often spends hours at home drawing, and she uses him to draw birthday and Christmas cards. All of his family members have him draw them when they come to visit.

“It’s his strongest area, and he struggles with everything else,” she said. “Rudy’s really amazing. His art really brings out his personality, and he’s really proud of it.”

Currently, the Moscow Chamber of Commerce has a display of some of Vandersteen’s work up at its office. The gallery includes pictures of the teachers and staff at MHS.

“He was super excited about that,” Naomi said.

Kendra Ewing, office assistant with the chamber, said there is not an exact date for when the gallery will come down, but it will likely be up for most of December.


Information from: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News, http://www.dnews.com

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