|Published:||May 28, 2012 3:41 PM EDT|
|Updated:||May 28, 2012 4:06 PM EDT|
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Kaleb Brown draws every day, creating a world of lemonade seas, evil broccoli, jet-packs, water balloon fights, giant zombie alien slugs, peanut-butter fried ice cream and skies that rain bacon.
He prefers using crayons. He says he likes to watch the crayons get shorter.
A slender boy, who turned 10 years old on May 25, speaks in quick sentences and often has a blissful smile on his face. After he was teased in school, his mother now home-schools him; even in the early grades he was picked out of the crowd as someone different.
"Somebody called me a name," Kaleb said, "but for some strange reason it was actually true. They called me weird." He shrugged. "Can't argue with that."
As a toddler, Kaleb would not crawl or walk. Instead, he scooted on his knees. He habitually hid socks under his pillow. If Cheerios were stuck together in milk, he wouldn't eat them. He spoke in full sentences and big words. "Like a little professor," said his mother, Kristen Brown.
People kept asking her what was wrong with Kaleb. She took him to a doctor. At 3, he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Those with Asperger's typically are socially awkward and develop consuming interests in certain areas.
For Kaleb, that's art. He's made hundreds of drawings, and usually embellishes any picture he sees. Just one example: After he's done with it, a circus performer in a school textbook ends up with spring-loaded platform shoes; a bunch of evil broccoli lurks near him.
"At first I was just doing silly drawings for fun, but then in kindergarten Dr. Seuss was sort of an inspiration for me," Kaleb said. "I tried to draw something just as fun and silly."
His mother could never bear to throw away any of his artwork. And within the last year, she's turned it into two books - "The Big M" and "Zombie Aliens Attack" - and a 2012 calendar. There's also a comic book that's available on Kindle.
The books feature two of Kaleb's long-time creations. One is the Big M, who is half dinosaur, half shark, half dragon, half several other things. "He's a friendly monster," Kaleb said. "He can breathe green fire and he can fly and he can smack through anything on the Periodic Table with his tail."
The other is Keven, who is a Dotty, a round smiley-face character who can survive being popped like a balloon, flattened by a steam roller or chewed by a monster.
His mother has paid to have the books and calendar printed by OnLineBinding, which helps people self-publish their books. She wants to encourage her son, she said, so he and others can see the results of his artwork.
Brown, 41, has only a few copies for herself: She's a single parent raising Kaleb and his two sisters in a small home on the Westside, where there's a year-round purple Christmas tree standing on a side table. They moved to Jacksonville five years ago from New York, escaping what she called a bad marriage.
They don't have a car, and life for the family revolves around the home.
But Kaleb did read from his books recently at a fundraiser for Little Star Center of Jacksonville, a private nonprofit school for young children with autism. Kristen Duffney, one of the directors of the school, praised Brown's efforts to encourage her son's interests.
"She used his strengths and worked with them," Duffney said.
Cheyenne Knopf of OnLineBinding has gotten to know Kaleb and his family over the past year. She's taken him to events such as a Jaguars pep rally, and said she's seen him grow from standoffish to affectionate and more confident.
Brown says that when Kaleb's diagnosis was made, she had to answer so many questions about herself that the doctor, looking over her answers, suggested she had Asperger's as well.
That figures: She was always awkward, she said, with few friends, and found meaning in the world of mixed martial arts. For years, she's volunteered to help mixed-martial arts fighters find sponsors and competitions, using the name Lethal Princess. She's now a big user of social media, with 5,001 friends on Facebook. A few of those friends, including professional mixed martial arts figures, helped to make a video adaptation of "The Big M" that Kaleb and others can watch on YouTube.
She's not sure what the next step is, for her or Kaleb. Maybe someone will come along, she says, with a map she can follow. "I worry. What is the world going to do with my son?"
Kaleb, almost 10, has other thoughts to occupy him. Asked to take a school assignment from one room of his house to another, he puts the paper against his stomach and runs with it. Plastered against his shirt, it survives the trip that way. "I love how it sticks to my belly when I run," he said, laughing. "I love gravity."
Information from: The Florida Times-Union, http://www.jacksonville.com
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