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  • Mary Bailey

Painting The World

Niam Jain is a 13-year-old artist who is gaining a big following in the art world. He also happens to be autistic and uses art to express himself. We talked to his mother Nina about Niam’s art and how it has changed the life of their family.


There are four members of our family. My husband and oldest son, Rohan, who is 15, run a blog together called I2Us. His blog focuses on important environmental and social issues.

I help Niam run his website, Niam Jain and run the social enterprise Able2Learn which provides free resources for children with developmental disabilities.

Niam was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

He always had difficulty expressing himself and I feel a lot of Niam's anxiety and behavioral issues were because he was not able to connect with others through verbal communication allowing him to express what he was thinking and feeling.

We discovered his love of painting by accident.

Last summer we were planning a family vacation in August, which we had to cancel for one reason or another. I run my social enterprise out of our home - the graphic designers and photographers were all over at my place which was tech heaven for Niam. He was touching everyone’s screens and downloading programs and games when no one was looking.

To try to keep him out of mischief, I set up a small painting studio in the basement thinking this would keep him busy for a few hours.

After he completed a few paintings, one of the designers set up an Etsy account and we posted the paintings. They all sold within a week. I was amazed. So we went out and invested in large canvases and professional paints and I started posting the paintings on Facebook. The paintings proved really popular with multiple offers for the same painting.

Niam has never had the opportunity to be a part of something before.

This is the first time in his life he feels he is good at something and people appreciate him. As a result, he is more calm and much happier. He is excited about painting and developing his technique.

He likes trying out new things and it has really opened up the world to him. Watching your child grow, be happy and enjoy life as a parent is the most fulfilling feeling a mother could possibly ask for.

Niam's therapists and teachers soon noticed he had gained more confidence. The other children at his school also paid more attention to him. Nothing is as rewarding as watching a child succeed and gain new skills. I may have discovered his painting talent one day, but it was a team effort that truly brought it to life. Without the team's constant support of Niam and my family, who knows whether the painting would have brought out the thoughts, feelings and emotions he had been feeling and learning about over the past ten years or so.

We are a very accepting family. We have never looked at Niam's behavior as a burden but simply a part of who he is and how he communicates. That being said, we are seeing a more calm and relaxed family atmosphere at home.

Niam paints with a variety of tools. Some we created for him to give him a better grip and make them easier for him to hold. He uses large strokes as he has difficulty with fine motor skills. I think the important message here is Niam has accommodations to be successful. To us that is okay.

Niam is inspired by the events, feelings and interaction he experiences through his daily life. It can be as simple as a sparkle of colors he sees glistening through the tree leaves, a rainbow or something that happens on a vacation. We take lots of pictures when we’re away and he looks at these on a regular basis. Niam can paint on multiple canvases at a time. We have lots of half- finished paintings. A painting can take 9 hours to 6 months for him to complete. He paints in layers.

Each layer expresses a feeling or emotion with the entire painting telling a story. If you look closely at Niam's paintings, you will see many hidden layers.

Days can go by when Niam does not feel like painting. But I have also taken Niam to paint at 11 pm at night when inspiration strikes.

At a professional level, I hope Niam develops into a great artist. More importantly, I hope Niam never stops painting and expressing himself. I love seeing the world through my son's eyes and getting to know what he thinks, feels and sees. I want him to be happy and to have a reason to get up in the morning and love what he is doing. It makes me happy to think there is a chance for independence in his life.

Autism is a long, emotional journey and there many are ups and downs. As a person you will change but you can never give up on your child. Locked up inside them is a beautiful world just waiting to come out. As parents, it is our job to be creative and find a way to help them along their journey. A journey that is as beautiful as your loving child.

It is important for parents to take time out for themselves. A parent has to be rested and happy to successfully help their child and their family. The motto that I carry deep in my heart is " When the world seems like its caving in, hope whispers, try one more time."

And finally, I would love to thank Neha, Global News, Samsung Canada, Autism Speaks Canada, CBC National, Able2learn and I2Us for believing in my son.

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