April 1, 2021, Jenny Barker, Editorial Director
D.J. Svoboda was diagnosed at the age of three with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with psychomotor retardation, which included speech delays and issues with his fine motor skills. As a young child, he found it difficult even to hold a pencil. Today D.J. is a dynamic motivational public speaker, accomplished artist, and author with three books to his credit: My Imagiville, The Mupperezmo and the Rainbow, and The Inspirations of Imagiville. He is also part of the new book Dr. Temple Grandin Meets Grant and His Friends debuting this month. Growing up, D.J. was teased and bullied. His negative experiences inspired him to create the land of Imagiville: a safe place in his imagination where everyone is treated kindly and accepted just the way they are. Through his art and public speaking, D.J. brings Imagiville and The Imagifriends to life and uses them as a vehicle to spread a message of hope, inspiration, and awareness that those with autism and special needs are special just the way they are.
For the past two years, D.J. has designed the artwork for PresenceLearning’s annual holiday greeting card, which the company mails to district partners and providers throughout the country. His scenes of uniquely beautiful snowflakes and snow people are a highlight of the season. Recently we sat down with D.J. to discuss Autism Acceptance Month (whose title has evolved this year from Autism Awareness Month, according to the Autism Society) and his greatest hopes for children living with autism—and for the world around them. Following is the interview and samples of his artwork.
Autism Acceptance Month is very important to me because I believe that it is time for people to get to know about autism better and really understand it. Children with autism should not be judged in a harsh way; they should be embraced. Children, teens, and adults with autism are very important and special. They too have a great place in this world and lots to contribute. They should know that, and others should know that too.
My greatest hope for children with autism is that the world sees how awesome they are. Their struggle makes them stronger. I hope that others can see the amazing things they can do and that they are important contributors in the world. I also want them to know that their big dreams really can come true. I wish for greater acceptance of autism and more inclusion of people with autism in every part of the world.
The team members at PresenceLearning are amazing, and I am grateful that the company provides services for all children with special needs to progress and grow. PresenceLearning always goes above and beyond for kids.
When we started The Imagifriends on July,16, 2011, our mission was to give others with autism hope and help all people look and see things from a different point of view. I speak to children in schools, and I love when they ask questions about The Imagifriends. Children so often tell me how we have made an impact on their lives, and that means a lot.
D.J.’s artwork has been featured in numerous publications, including Autism Spectrum News, Autism Asperger’s Digest, Autism Perspective, and Australian Parent’s Child, among others. It also hangs in museums and on the walls of corporations, organizations, and in private homes. The Autism Society of America selected D.J.’s Mupperezmo character to be the image on their “Puzzle Project.” The Mupperezmo, affectionately known as the “Mupp,” is a dragon-like character who turns his head upside-down to see the world from a different point of view. D.J. is an advocate for the North Carolina Autism Society, has been nominated for the Naturally Autistic ANCA Visual Arts Award, and has been interviewed on numerous radio and television shows. Below are two favorites from his collection.
“This was created because this is one of The Imagifriends’ greatest lessons, and we are very determined to share and spread the power of dreaming and believing big. Big, big dreams can and do come true, and there is NO such thing as impossible or impossibility.”
“I created him to show the world that everyone with autism thinks, feels, and sees things and the world and life much more differently and from a very different point of view, which is why he has his head turned upside down so that he can see things from a different point of view.”
PresenceLearning will be participating in Autism Acceptance Month’s April 2021 campaign, #CelebrateDifferences, in a variety of ways. We invite you to watch the PresenceLearning blogs and the PL Facebook page and PL Twitter throughout the month for our dedicated posts.