The story of autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire is the stuff of legends. This 45-year-old British genius, of West Indian descent, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Stephen’s transition from a non-verbal autistic child, to that of a completely verbal Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to art, is nothing but inspiring! His lifelike, accurate representations of cities, sometimes, just from a brief observation, has certainly saved him a spot as one of the most famous autistic people in history!
The Early Years of Stephen Wiltshire
Stephen is the perfect example of what an individual with special needs can achieve when they get the right support & direction. Stephen’s school teachers noticed his passion for drawing at the age of 5 years. They recognized that he liked communicating with the world through art. They encouraged him to speak by occasionally taking away his art supplies, hoping for him to verbally ask for it. Like many other autistic nonverbal children, Stepehen initially responded by making sounds; he eventually uttered his first word- “paper”.
His journey began first by drawing animals, London buses, and finally, cars! Stephen’s savant skills are manifested not just from his spectacular artwork, but also his extraordinary encyclopedic knowledge of cars. Wiltshire’s love story with London’s landmark buildings began when he was just 7 years of age! One of Stephen’s school teachers recognized his genius and went out of his way to accompany him at drawing excursions. He even submitted Stephen’s artwork in children’s artwork contests, due to which he got tremendous media attention.
It was unbelievable to the local press, that such a young child could create something so sophisticated. At the tender age of 8, young Stephen was commissioned by the British Prime Minister to create a drawing of Salisbury Cathedral. From there began the career of this fascinating autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire, who has, since then sketched several hundreds of legendary architectural structures, including complete panoramic views of cities. In fact, his nineteen-foot-long drawing of 305 square miles of New York City is based on a single twenty-minute helicopter ride. Stephen’s largest-ever drawing has been a panoramic view of Tokyo, measuring 10 meters in length. It took Stephen 8 days to complete the artwork using pen only.
You can check out Stephen Wiltshire’s artwork on his official website! Prepare to be spellbound by his masterful sketches & his supreme attention to detail. This autistic genius’ passion for buildings, cityscapes, and skylines keep inspiring him to revisit his favorite cities. He also loves to discover new destinations while traveling the world. In an interview in New York, he revealed that the most intriguing qualities of an exciting city must have ‘chaos and order at the same time, the avenues and squares, skyscrapers as well as traffic jams, the chaotic rush hour and people’.
Most known autistic individuals have expressed that think in images or videos in their minds. This makes art a beautiful way for autistic children to express themselves and communicate. This autistic savant’s story has truly blown our minds to smithereens! The last several years have given us many such geniuses. However, it takes a village in doing so, and the right guidance. While every autistic child may not be a savant-like Stephen Wiltshire, every autistic child does have the potential to be discovered. The key is to recognize your child’s abilities and nurture them.