The Power of Art and Autism to Transform the World – Don’t Count Me Out

Human creativity knows no bounds. This is a core belief held by Dr. Temple Grandin, the narrator for the new two-minute trailer for the documentary film, FIERCE LOVE and ART. Alumnus and autism advocate Laurence A. Becker, who earned his Ph.D. in 1980 from Union, with a concentration in Creative Learning Environments, produced the film and its trailer.

 

“FIERCE LOVE and ART” was produced by Union alumnus Laurence A. Becker, Ph.D. 1980. It’s directed by Ron Zimmerman, who first collaborated with Dr. Becker for the 1981 “With Eyes Wide Open” documentary. Tony DeBlois, who served as the musician for the film, is a savant artist with autism who didn’t speak until the age of 15. Today, Tony plays 23 instruments & has a repertoire of more than 20,000 songs. He sings with perfect pitch & perfect enunciation in 11 languages. He has produced a dozen albums, has his own jazz band, & regularly performs professionally.

Human creativity is woven throughout the film as the nine artists display their various art forms, ranging from music to painting, with the plea, “Don’t Count Me Out.” The film, originally released in 2018, has been re-edited to include a narration by Dr. Grandin, who is also autistic. Dr. Grandin, an expert on autism and animal behavior, describes her life’s work: “to understand her own autistic mind, and to share that knowledge with the world, and aid in the treatment of individuals with the condition.” Grandin is a professor of animal science, consultant to the livestock industry, and best-selling author. This film marks her debut as a narrator.

Dr. Becker, 84, has been compelled to share the human story of savant artists with autism and their devoted parents for more than 40 years. He refers to himself as an “educator aqueduct.” “I’m not the water or the source, but the instrument through which the education flows.” Throughout his career, Dr. Becker has seen how the creative process has transformed many with autism, particularly young adults. “To me, the parents are a real testament to what happens in the lives of children with autism. I have witnessed how families fiercely take charge of their child’s development. It is a testament to the power of art in all our lives,” said Dr. Becker. His mission is to bring awareness of the myriad gifts individuals with autism and other disabilities bring to the world. He plans to market the film to Vimeo, Netflix, and PBS. “We need to realize that all of us are related, and we can all make the world a better place. In the film, FIERCE LOVE and ART, we meet individuals with autism and other disabilities who have been able to transform their own lives, contribute to their communities through art, music, and words. It is because of powerful support and love from parents who bring their children home from what I refer to as solitary confinement on ‘Autism Island.’”

Laurence A. Becker, Ph.D.

Dr. Becker’s distinguished career includes producing the internationally and nationally award-winning film, “With Eyes Wide Open: Richard Wawro.” Wawro was a legally blind and non-verbal artist until age 11. He was misdiagnosed with severe intellectual disabilities and an IQ of 30 when he was a young child, severely limiting Richard’s opportunities to attend regular school and develop communication skills. At the age of three, he began drawing with chalk. He was self-taught and used the unusual medium of wax oil crayons. His work received worldwide acclaim. As seen in the film, Dr. Becker shows there is hope and emphasizes that individuals with unique abilities and the loving support of a family can make a difference in cognitive and emotional skills, and ultimately lead productive lives. Richard’s fans included British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the late Pope John Paul II, who both own one of his works.

“Until 1976, I had never heard the word autism,” says Dr. Becker. “By chance, I attended an international conference on psychiatry and culture and saw a 10-minute film about Richard Wawro that changed my life. That was the start. I knew I had to make a film about Richard. I went to Scotland, to meet him and was overwhelmed with his story, his art, and his family.”

Dr. Becker’s doctoral studies at Union inspired him. “Professor Roy Fairfield was my core professor. He coined a term I had never heard before, ReFIREment. That means to be creative all your life. I have always been inspired to live by that motto,” said Becker. “Union has always been an important part of my life. I have served on 15 Ph.D. committees as a peer and adjunct professor, served on several committees including admissions, and have just been elected once again to serve on the board of Union’s International Alumni Association.”
Since 1976, Dr. Becker has worked with several of the world’s most noted artists with autism. Currently, in addition to sharing the work of Richard Wawro, of Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Becker works with the art of Christophe Pillault, of France, Ping Lian, of Malaysia/Australia, Kimberly Dixon of Texas, Erik Warren of Kansas, Grant Manier of Houston, and Seth Chwast, of Ohio.

Dr. Becker, a prolific writer and sought-after workshop presenter and consultant, is the author of numerous publications, poems, essays, books, and films, including writing the foreword for a book on the prodigy Marshall Ball, author of Kiss of God: The Wisdom of a Silent Child. Recently, Dr. Becker was a presenter at the Global Autism Summit.

Prior to earning his Ph.D. at Union, Dr. Becker served for ten years as chair of the English Department at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, where he founded and directed the Texas Student Film Festival, at the time one of the largest and most successful student film festivals in the United States. He also served as an Artist-in-Schools in Filmmaking in rural Maine while working with the Washington County Handicapped Children’s Program as a film and video consultant. In addition, he worked with Bill Coperthwaite at the Yurt Foundation, an educational foundation that collects folk wisdom from throughout the world. In 1980, he co-authored with Dr. Frederick B. Tuttle Jr., two books published by the National Education Association on gifted education. The indefatigable Dr. Becker was a lifelong tournament tennis player, coach, and bicyclist. He and his wife of 60 years, Rosanne, have three children. Dr. Becker lives his PFE: (Purpose for Existing) that says, “To Experience, To Embody, To Express ReFIREment Each and Every Day of my Life!”
To learn more about Dr. Becker and his work, visit his website at FierceLoveParents.com.

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