I write on behalf of my 32 year old son, Dylan Kuehl (pron. Keel), who lives his life proudly with Down syndrome. Dylan's art story begins when he was 5 years old. Attending a Waldorf Kindergarten he drew St. Francis. His drawing had few lines and little detail. With limited speech at this time, art was his language. Unfortunately, Dylan was physically mistreated when he was 5-10 years old. When the source of this pain was no longer in our home, his broken wrist not yet healed, he became very angry and started hitting others. Even at 11 he was very strong. I feared for my safety and that of my then infant daughter. I made an important life changing decision. Faced with removing him from our home and considering medication to help curb his lack of impulse control, I chose to emerge his life into the arts. I believed he needed to regain control and trust of the world around him. This process needed to happen from the inside out.
So, instead of pills and isolation, I brought someone into our home (which at one time was not a safe place for him) to guide him toward beauty and self expression. Instead of hitting others, I bought him a full size drum set -- he needed to hit something. I also found someone to help him create art, which brought beauty and patience into his life. I also put him into martial arts which helped him understand his strength and how to use his body for safety. Next came movement and dance. He learned to speak emotionally with his body and music. It took over a year before he was willing to let anyone, except his art mentors, watch him dance or look at any of his paintings. His process of healing took time. He had to trust his inner beauty and ability to understand what had happened to him. With art, came language. He learned to express frustration without hurting others or himself. He began to see the light within himself, which had been darkened by abuse. He learned to express himself with art, movement and words. He took his own darkness and transformed his life into light. He has learned to use his hands and emotions to create beauty not hurt and pain. He has become an award winning, published artist and public speaker. When giving motivational speeches, he always includes an inspiring dance.
One of the outcomes of my decision to choose art not pills, is that he has gone on to become the sole-proprietor of his own successful visual and performing arts business called, DK Arts (est. 2005). His inner self confidence has grown and shines for all to be inspired. Many of us have faced difficult childhoods. And all of us have the opportunity to stay a victim to this crime or transform it into something great. This is what Dylan has done. His love for music has helped him become the "lead" drummer in a band called Living the Dream. Dylan has always wanted to feel and be INCLUDED. Not just with people with disabilities but with all people in his community. So after years of just hitting his drums, he began taking drum lessons when he was 11 years old. This first instructor told him that he could be in a band. He never, and I mean never, let go of this idea. This dream has come true. Dylan did not want to be in a band with other people with disabilities. He wanted to be the only person with a disability and be INCLUDED with typically developing musicians and singers. For the past four yeas he has been part of a band with a mission that promotes INCLUSION and ABILITIES. They have played locally in his home town of Olympia, WA and toured Maui. This year the band is playing at the 25th ADA Celebration in Seattle, WA and playing at the World Special Olympic Games in Los Angeles, performing at the Seattle, WA, Buddy Walk and the 2015 TASH conference in Portland, Oregon. He is happily living the dream and encouraging others to so the same. Amen!