Nationally, there is a wave of approximately 50,000 young adults with autism annually aging out of school and support services, and, for those with identifiable talents, parents and advocates are embracing marketing and an entrepreneurial spirit for these adults with disabilities in exciting ways.
One such Nashville-area pioneer is Leisa Hammett whose artist daughter, Grace Goad, is a great example of identifying, cultivating and marketing a child’s talent.
When Grace was diagnosed with autism at age three, she began a rigorous early intervention program from educational to speech/language therapies. Hammett says, ““I looked around for the joys of childhood like art or dance and saw none. I have an art background and knew she needed someone who understood her disability and how to reach her where she was.”
Finding an art therapist to work with Grace was key. For more on their journey, click here for Hammett’s blog.
With Grace’s gift for color and composition recognized early by the therapist and Hammett, her art began earning local and national recognition by the age of 10, and, a year later, she appeared on an autism episode of “The View.”
“After ‘The View,’ we got 200 phone calls and emails starting within minutes of it airing with people wanting to buy merchandise. We had a very basic, unsophisticated website showcasing her work. I had a vision this could be an avenue for a career some day,” Hammett explains. However, the development of Grace as an artist and the availability of her work would take a lot of effort.
Today, Hammett said pacing the business has been important so it wouldn’t overwhelm her as a now single mom. She serves as her 22-year-old daughter’s public relations and art agent and is very intentional in her marketing.
“The language in marketing is important. When she was young, her father and I decided to explain Grace’s autism by putting her as a person first and her autism second, versus saying, for example ‘our autistic daughter.’ In our community, in general, we prefer PeopleFirstLanguage. She is an artist, first, who has a disAbility, second, and I capitalize the A,” Hammett said.
From the exciting and oftentimes frustrating process, Hammett shares some great tips for helping young adults with a disability market a product.
Know that your child is unique, special and gifted in some way. With parents of children with disabilities, it can be tricky and can be a moving target. Your child may excel in something simple Latin names for dinosaurs and could be a future scientist. Encourage your child and celebrate their uniqueness. Part of Grace’s success is we know her niche and we capitalize upon it.
Your marketing should be professional and as quality as your product. Your website needs to be just as creative and beautiful as the product it represents. The third generation of Grace’s website is currently under construction.
If you don’t have an expertise, find professionals to help you. Respect and acknowledge that individuals go to school to learn good design, coding, etc. Not everyone has those gifts and skills.
Grace was featured in the New York Times in February as of result of now having national representation. Hammett says they have missed opportunities for sales because of still not having her art for sale online. Managing the many aspects of Grace’s art business and disability has been challenging.
You are a constant marketing agency. Have that elevator speech at the ready for any opportunity.
“Art is a window to the beauty and possibilities of individuals with disabilities,” says Hammett. “A lot of people may be fearful or prejudice toward people with disabilities. Art can be a bridge.”
Grace’s art continues to evolve including her foray into the ancient Japanese technique of sumi-e ink wash painting. To find out more about her work, click here.