by Mellissa Thomas
Who says fashion has no place for autism? Autism Speaks reports that autism is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the U.S., and boys are five times more likely to have it than girls. Given Autism Speaks’ further reporting that autism affects 1 in 68 children, and more specifically 1 in 42 boys, and the fact that over 19,300 people in the U.S. alone call themselves fashion designers, autism and fashion inevitably play nice.
Besides, who can refuse a handsome, precocious seven-year-old boy with a passion for all things artistic?
Meet Suleiman Alqadheeb.
His family and friends call him “Sully.” Alqadheeb specifically has Aspergers Syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum. Sara Schauer described her son’s social life, high intellect, and rich creativity in a recent interview. “He didn’t start speaking until he was three,” she explained. However, she stated that his communication skills have improved by leaps and bounds in the last four years through early intervention and therapy. “He’s very high functioning. He loves art concepts, music, and is really into costumes and Marvel.”
And as any laser-focused child with boundless possibilities would do, he dove into designing costumes headfirst with his mother’s unwavering support.
The talent is in the blood. Schauer has a Bachelor of Science/Fine Arts degree in design herself, and continually supports the industry through her professional network. She also previously worked as a Walt Disney Imagineer. Alqadheeb’s father has a Masters in Computer Science and Physics.
The Power of Encouragement
Alqadheeb’s creative exploits didn’t stop – or start – with costume design. Schauer recalled that without any effort on her or her son’s part, Alqadheeb has been scouted for child modeling since the age of three. Through Schauer’s industry connections, celebrity photographer Jacob Henry scouted Alqadheeb and was photographed by Gioia Photography as well. He has designed his own Lone Ranger costume. According to Schauer, he would never pass up an opportunity to make a real bat suit, and confidently says, “I could make that.”
Her biggest concern is encouraging her son to cultivate his passions. Given his autism, Schauer says he is very critical of himself, and he is still learning to connect with people socially. In fact, his current work in progress, online Haute Kids Magazine, was his idea and one Schauer encourages him to continue to help bolster his social skills. “Sully has his highs and lows, he is highly sensitive. No child is the same. For example, theme parks are still a challenge for him.” Schauer explained that the massive crowd and the loud noises are sometimes too much for him, but he is gradually easing into it. Children on the autism spectrum often face heightened sensory stimuli, which may include sensitivity to sound and touch.
“Every parent knows their child. It’s up to you to encourage your child, because the child already knows he or she’s different,” Schauer noted. “You are your child’s biggest advocate, teach them that they can do anything, no matter the challenge, teach them to become leaders.”
She noticed early on that her son loved science, and their residence at Cape Canaveral feeds his curiosity for space and astronomy. In fact, Schauer said that while other kids would typically choose Disney over the Smithsonian if they had to choose between the two, Alqadheeb would choose the Smithsonian. “He loves museums, archeology, and learning how things work.” According to her, he carries around Indiana Jones Journal everywhere he goes. In fact, on a field trip to St. Augustine, Florida, he was introduced to pirate history and pirate ships, and while he loved seeing the ship and the pirate costumes, he was more interested in learning how the costumes were made and how the pirate ship was put together. He was fascinated by the making of Disney’s box office blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean.
“Let the Kids Have Their Say.”
Schauer’s directive echoes her son’s key goal with Haute Kids Magazine and his costume design: While the world is now more aware of autism, autistic children don’t have much of a voice of their own – their accomplishments and abilities aren’t frequently highlighted. The magazine aims to fill that void.
Outside the magazine (whose launch is pending), Alqadheeb and Schauer participate in Surfers For Autism, a local surfing event for children with autism, each year, which was recently sponsored by Ron Jon Surf School in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Alqadheeb has a strong Twitter and Instagram following, frequently posting content about autistic children, autism, photos of himself and his experiences, his favorite music, and positive quotes.
Alqadheeb deems his work “L’Hautistic Couture,” marrying his love for fashion and his drive to raise autism awareness. His future goals include creating a full costume line. During the call, Schauer asked him what he wants to be when he grows up: “I want be a skateboarder,” he replied ebulliently, “make costumes, and be a scientist.”
Alqadheeb earnestly answered the question adults sometimes think twice to answer: What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Fashion + Autism
Alquadheeb is one example of fashion’s heart. Fashion shows and fashion weeks frequently partner with charities and non-profits to infuse artistry with altruism. In a very recent example, Orlando International Fashion Week, slated for November 2-8, 2014, has officially partnered with Autism Speaks for its “Fashion Night Out” benefit dinner.
Sully Alqadheeb photos courtesy of Alqadheeb’s Instagram account (@hautekidds).
Autism Speaks logo courtesy of Autism Speaks.
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About the Author:
Orlando Fashion Magazine Chief Editor and Publisher Mellissa Thomas is a Jamaica-born writer. She’s a decorated U.S. Navy veteran with Entertainment Business Masters and Film Bachelors degrees from Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL.
She’s currently available for hire, writing content for websites, blogs, and marketing material, and as a book coach. She also writes poetry, screenplays, and ghostwrites books.
She has published four books, all available on Amazon.com. Her most recent release, “Faded Diamonds”, is now available in paperback on all major online book retailers and digitally available on the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.
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