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Painting and Asperger’s syndrome: A powerful pair

Durango man uses art to spread awareness about being on the spectrum
Durango resident John Truitt stands with some of his recent paintings. Truitt had a long career as a businessman before being diagnosed at age 45 with Asperger’s and dyslexia. (Courtesy of John Truitt)

Local artist, nonprofit founder and businessman John Truitt is using art to raise awareness about Asperger's syndrome.

Truitt, a native Texan who moved to Durango in 2016, was diagnosed with Asperger’s and dyslexia at age 45. The diagnosis inspired several changes in his life, including painting abstract art and establishing the On the Spectrum Foundation in 2019, which seeks to empower adults on the spectrum and advocate for people diagnosed as adults.

Before establishing the foundation, Truitt worked in the medical, dental and biotech fields for more than 25 years. He also served as a combat medic in the 25th Infantry Division. In his spare time, he works with disabled veterans through art therapy and coaches parents of children who are on the spectrum and adults diagnosed with Asperger’s.

A painting by Durango resident John Truitt, an artist, nonprofit founder and businessman, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s and dyslexia at age 45. (Courtesy of John Truitt)

Soon after Truitt was diagnosed in 2017, he was searching for a relaxing outlet and found himself at the doors of an art store. Now, he’s using his own abstract art pieces to market the foundation through a new venture, “Art on the Spectrum.” Money raised through selling his art is funneled to his On the Spectrum Foundation.

“It’s something I can put out there that grabs people’s attention, but creates a story and creates a conversation,” Truitt said in an interview.

Truitt describes his painting as “surfing on the spectrum.” He puts on his favorite music and lets his Asperger’s stimming take over. “Stimming” is short for self-stimulating behaviors – a series of repetitive physical movements, words or sounds that occur during intense emotional experiences and can also ease anxiety.

“It allows me to create something that I can do at my own pace that’s completely mine,” Truitt said. “For me personally ... it’s a massive relief and release and just allows me to calm down.”

A painting by Durango resident John Truitt, an artist, nonprofit founder and businessman, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s and dyslexia at age 45. (Courtesy of John Truitt)

Through his art, Truitt has met many others on the spectrum who use art as an outlet. Many famous artists throughout history are speculated to have been on the spectrum, including Pablo Picasso.

Truitt has several goals for the foundation, including creating a feature film about Asperger’s and creating a center to help those on the spectrum navigate the diagnosis. At the center, Truitt plans to teach people how to practice mindfulness, educate participants about proper nutrition and help people find a job that aligns with their interests and strengths.

He also plans to reach out to schools and other local entities in Durango to spread the word. Once resources and programming are established locally, Truitt hopes to replicate the services throughout Colorado and eventually across the United States.

Overall, Truitt’s main goal is to raise awareness and thwart negative misconceptions.

“Asperger’s is not, by any means, a mental impairment,” Truitt said.

His personal diagnosis was a surprise at first, Truitt said, but because of his own misconception of being on the spectrum. In hindsight, he said he would often “mask” his behavior in social situations, which is when spectrum behaviors are hidden to fit into a social situation. For example, a person on the spectrum may suppress stimming when meeting someone new at a bar.

Women typically mask or camouflage more than men on the spectrum, which contributes to often-missed diagnoses. Many women on the spectrum are misdiagnosed as being bipolar because over-stimulation can appear as mood swings, Truitt said. Truitt himself was also misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

“There’s a lot of medical misogyny,” he said.

John Truitt

Support from his wife, Ashley, and longtime friend Gus Dorrell, who serves on the foundation’s board, was integral in coming to terms with his diagnosis, Truitt said.

“When I got diagnosed, we got diagnosed,” Truitt said.

Watching Truitt find a relaxing outlet in art and using it to raise awareness about Asperger’s has been incredible, Ashley said.

“It’s been really awesome to see the development of what he's doing with colors and the palette,” Ashley said. “It's been quite incredible to see it develop.”

Truitt’s pursuit of building and establishing the foundation is admirable, Dorrell said, and he’s glad to be a part of the effort.

“I think that helping others overcome the issues in which we’ve been dealt and deal with makes it very rewarding,” Dorrell said.

To learn more about the On the Spectrum Foundation, Asperger’s or the spectrum, email john@onthespectrumfoundation.org.

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