Seth Chwast, artist with Autism, kicks off 8th Annual Autism Conference

July 29, 2015
Posted by
Kirsten Swanson
Seth Chwast with his paintings

When Seth Chwast was diagnosed with severe autism as a young child, his mother, Debra, was told time after time that her son wouldn't amount to anything. 

Fast-forward decades later, Seth, now 32,is a world-renowned artist whose paintings have been exhibited around the world. The Chwasts shared their inspiring story on April 10 to kickoff Gwynedd Mercy University's eighth annual Autism Conference. 

“I believe ‘Never give up,’ ‘Never say no’ — you can reach for the stars and you may not get the star you thought you would get, but you may get something better,” Debra Chwast said.

Debra is the author of "An Unexpected Life: A Mother and Son's Story of Love, Determination, Autism, and Art," which chronicles the journey both she and Seth have been on since his diagnosis. Refusing to dwell on Seth's limitations, Debra committed her life to helping Seth find a way to express himself.

In 2003, she enrolled Seth in a painting class in their hometown of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and the rest as they say, was history. Seth began describing his world through art; his ability to paint without boundaries has enabled him to create pieces in various styles and mediums. 

Seth has traveled all over the world, holding exhibits in the Galapagos and Cayman Islands and has appeared on national television programs such as The Today Show. Seth has worked with international artists, regularly flying to New York to work with Kip Jacobs to create Manhattan cityscapes and mobiles.

His colorful paintings were on display throughout GMercyU's University  Hall and on the t-shirts of the Education students who filled the auditorium. 

“What he is doing is amazing,” Debra said, “and Seth is autistic. He cannot cross the street. You can’t train him, you can’t condition him, you can make him feel guilty but you can’t make him do what he can’t do. But if you focus on what he can do, he can blow you away."

Debra hopes Seth's story will inspire others, especially future educators of people with autism, to focus on the abilities of the person, not the limitations. 

What's next for the Chwasts? They will be spending most of their summer in Europe while Seth's art will be on display in France and Debra works on a multimedia curriculum using Seth's art to teach children about autism.