By Jennifer Jackson
ENID - A paintbrush, paint and a bare canvas changed Amanda LaMunyon's life.
Three years ago, Amanda's parents enrolled her in art lessons because she was having trouble paying attention in school.
Amanda, 10, has Asperger Syndrome, which is a milder version of autistic disorder. Asperger Syndrome is characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood, according to the disorder's Web site.
"I wanted to find something to keep her busy and make her feel good about herself," said her mother, Sherry LaMunyon.
The art lessons improved Amanda's performance in school and uncovered a hidden talent.
"God was good enough to give Amanda her talent, and it has changed her whole life," LaMunyon said. "It's changed the way people look at her and talk to her."
Amanda's mother said it has taken time for Amanda to realize that her work is good.
"In private she'll say 'It's not very good, is it?'" LaMunyon said. "I think the only reason she thinks well of her paintings is because people tell her how wonderful they are."
Richard Irwin, developmental pediatrician at the Tulsa Developmental Pediatrics & Center for Family Psychology, said it's common for individuals with Asperger Syndrome to have a uniquely outstanding academic or artistic ability.
"People with Asperger's learn differently than other people," Amanda's mother said. "It isn't that they can't learn, it's just that they learn differently."
Amanda doesn't take credit for her talent.
"Without God and my art teacher, Mrs. Lillian Foulks, I would have never learned to paint," Amanda said. "I never thought my paintings would be anything. I always thought I was just a girl who paints."
Foulks, 76, said when she started teaching Amanda how to paint three years ago, the young student could barely sit still.
"She would paint the easel, the table, and when she got that out of her system we would paint," Foulks said. "My easels have been every color you can imagine."
The teacher said she knows what it is like to be different and can relate to Amanda's situation.
"I have dyslexia and they didn't know what it was when I was going to school," Foulks said. "They just thought I was stupid. Even my teachers didn't realize what was wrong with me."
Amanda said she hopes others will be encouraged by her story.
"My art has opened many doors of opportunity for me," she said. "I have a dream that one day my paintings will hang beside the great artists all over the world."
A painting she did of Ronald Reagan caught Nancy Reagan's attention, and soon the former first lady will have a replica.
Plans are under way for Amanda to travel to California and present the painting to Nancy Reagan, said spokeswoman Wren Powell.
"I was just flabbergasted," Amanda said. "I couldn't believe Nancy Reagan wanted one of my paintings."
Amanda has been asked to include her artwork in a book titled "A Girl's Guide to Achieving in the Arts," which will be published in about a year.
Kristen Stephens, coordinator of educational outreach at Duke University, is writing the book. Stephens said Amanda's story could be an inspiration to other young girls.
"When I first saw her artwork I didn't know about her Asperger's," Stephens said. "Now it makes it even more amazing that she has found this outlet to express herself with.
"Amanda would be an inspiration to a lot of girls and that is one reason we are writing the book, to provide role models for young girls."
LaMunyon said her daughter has taught her how to accept people as they are.
"She's a little picture of hope," LaMunyon said.
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