In the studio with the BLES Bobcat news team and art contest winners!

After our Disney bullying experience at the beginning of this year, I thought, “What kind of message are our kids receiving about autism?”

I wanted to make sure that we started the conversation locally as early as possible. I wanted to get ahead of the message, because while Billy's current four- and five-year-old classmates at Buck Lake Elementary School are the best and most beautiful people on the face of the planet (I really believe this), even great kids can turn into Mean Girls. And one day, he's going to that scary place known as middle school.

So, with the sponsorship support of my amazing sister, Samantha Strickland of Pea Green Solutions, I sponsored a poster contest at Billy's elementary school. The rules were very simple: Just do an Autism Awareness Month poster. Talk about how being different is ok and good. Use my blog title in it for extra credit.

About 40 fourth- and fifth-graders participated, and I got the posters back a couple of days ago.

I just boo-hooed as I went through them in my kitchen. I actually felt ashamed for adults and our utter inability to get it. Adults have to try to love the whole world and kids just do it so naturally. What happens to us?

While I already knew that Billy's teacher, his classroom aides, his school therapists and his wonderful principal have the most beautiful hearts, I was floored by the thoughtful and understanding way these young artists approached the idea of autism awareness. With the principal and art teacher's help, we narrowed down the big pile to 11 of our favorites (I couldn't eliminate one and make it and even top 10). You can see all 11 finalists at the Facebook page.

Then our panel of celebrity judges weighed in. And what a great panel we had: co-sponsor of the contest Samantha Strickland, CEO of Pea Green Solutions; Mark Marsiglio, CEO of ThinkCreative Advertising; Rosanne Dunkelberger, editor of Tallahassee Magazine; pop artist Jules Burt; and Jeanette Dummer, assistant director of the Florida State University Honors Program.

Today, we awarded the prizes for the top 5 posters during the Buck Lake Bobcat Morning News (side note: I was totally blown away by how professionally these elementary school students can produce, shoot and anchor a morning talk show -- they could teach the pros a few things).

We had three third place prize winners who each received a $10 cash prize:


3rd place: Joseph R.

Joseph R's incredible pencil drawing illustrates individual uniqueness through a cityscape of intricately drawn buildings.
I like the way Odessa D. created faces out of puzzle pieces and mixed media including pencils, pastels and puffy paint.
Striking, simple and effective, Claire H's colorful butterfly is a beautiful metaphor for autism.

Next, came our second prize winners, because Chloe B. and Natalie B. chose to work together on this beautiful design, while incorporates colored pencil and 3-D fabric elements. The artists share the $25 second prize for this beautiful poster:


And finally our first prize winner! The talented Lauren S. clearly "gets it," because in the words of one judge, "I like the suggestion of not just what to do but HOW to do it!" I also love the way a couple of the kids are wearing Life is a Spectrum T-shirts. GREAT idea, Lauren :-) Lauren received a $50 cash prize and FOUR TICKETS TO DISNEY WORLD!!


Thank you to all the young artists, esteemed judges, phenomenal teachers, the wonderful principal Sands and my tireless, creative and supportive sister Sam (did I mention that you should hire Pea Green Solutions for all your marketing needs???) without whom I truly would not have made it through this month.

You have all made this April a very special time for me and my family.

Reader Comments

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Wow! What amazing talent! I love how everyone has such a unique and different take on it. Great job everyone & congrats!!

1 Wasabi mommy

I really love the title of your blog.. it makes total sense.. just following you back.. from sits

Congratulations on the successful contest, Amanda! I hope other schools will follow Buck Lake's example!


What a creative way of spreading awareness to these kids Amanda. I read your bullying incident at WDW and that is really sad. In retrospect, I hope Disney will learn from it. Great work on the contest!

Snippets 'N Stuff

I posted a link on my blog. This was such an amazing idea.

Snippets 'N Stuff

What an amazing idea! I love this! The kids artwork is precious. I could see how you would get choked up. Thanks for sharing.

This is a great idea, wonderfully executed. Now I know what you've been doing all April...what are you gonna do with yourself when it's over?? I know I know...awareness isn't going to end on April 30, right? Great job!

What a Cool Idea!

I can't not get over how great the kids did with their art! They posters were all so amazing!

Total 11 comments


OK, maybe that's pushing it a bit. But in case you haven't heard, April is Autism Awareness Month, and we've got all kinds of things planned this month at There's going to be much less discussion of how much I hate laundry and how I haven't gotten a pedicure in a long time -- and much more discussion of worthy people and subjects.

And some fun stuff. Like giveaways and prizes and videos and a big surprise!

So if you're one of those people (like the neighbor whose name I will not mention) who still has a Christmas tree up and visible through the living room windows, hang a few autism awareness ribbons on it and look indignant at anyone who suggests you're just too lazy to put it in the attic.

Speaking of that ribbon on the left, what's the deal with this puzzle anyway? Why do the pieces, even when assembled, not actually form any picture? It looks like a puzzle after Billy's done putting it together (FYI, he's not one of those autistic kids with an amazing puzzle-putting-together ability or desire).

Maybe that's one of those questions I'm not supposed to ask, like why do the cars in the movie CARS have houses? Who built them? Who installed the ceiling fans in the Radiator Springs court house? And Veggie Tales: The vegetables clearly have no hands, so why how does the celery reporter carry a microphone? Why would they even have hand-held microphones in their world if there are no hands? And why do their doors have door knobs?

Yes, these are examples of a few of the questions I will NOT be discussing during Autism Awareness Month. So breathe easy, and check back with us tomorrow for the big kickoff!

Reader Comments

Whoa - I remember the excitement here now... Amanda - you are such a great cheerleader and advocate. You're also a great salesperson! I'm so curious, I have to come back and see what you'll be up to...

I Need Answers

I'll only come back if you promise to answer at least half of the questions posed. A quarter of them? One? Okay okay. I'll be back anyway.

Snippets 'N Stuff

I will look forward to "tuning in" daily. :)

Why DO they have doorknobs??

Looking forward to seeing all that's in store!! I've been in anticipation of this weekend and month like it really is some kind of holiday. I never expected to be this into it. We have our lightbulbs ready to go up and blue shirts ready for their iron-on awareness logos (hoping it's legal to use). We'll be sporting them at Springtime Tallahassee along with the jewelry Gracie picked out at Country Dollar today. She's a hot mess. =)

Total 4 comments

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