J.J. Lossman is like every other 9-year-old. He loves the show, The Backyardigans, he loves to run around half-naked, and he loves going to the beach and swimming. However, there is something that sets him apart from the others: J.J. is an artist–an artist who has already sold 78 pieces of his original works.
J.J. was diagnosed with severe autism when he was 2 years old but his parents, Ramie and Kenny Lossman knew early on around when he was 6 months old that “something was not right.”
“We started occupational therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy and play therapy when he was 1 year old,” Ramie Lossman said. “We started a year earlier than normal, I would say. We went to ABC of NC for two years which taught him a lot of self-control–he used to be a runner, and they focused in on that and got him to hold my hand now when we go in public, which is amazing.”
The parents said they did not go through the denial stage, as most parents do when they discover their child has autism. They were aware of the red flags such as, J.J. not making any eye contact and how he never felt pain. The Lossmans agreed that they both handled the news rather well. Their son has been in speech therapy for eight years, and he is still completely nonverbal. On top of that, Ramie Lossman said, he has speech apraxia.
According to the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website, childhood apraxia of speech is motor speech disorder in which, “children have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. The child knows what they want to say, but their brains have difficulty coordinating the muscle movements necessary to say the words. For instance, Ramie Lossman said when he says “please” it comes out more like “ease.”
However, this doesn’t stop J.J. from expressing himself. With a canvas, acrylic paints (of many assorted colors, of course) and usually anything but a paint brush, J.J. creates paintings that call to mind the works of famous abstract expressionists such as Elaine de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.
He doesn’t use paint brushes, Ramie Lossman said, he uses Barbie doll heads, cars, little figurines, pool toys, sponges, or whatever he can find lying around. Very rarely is it a paint brush though, she said.
Ramie Lossman said J.J. started painting when he was 3 years old because of a teacher that got him to use painting to express his feelings and ever since, J.J. has been painting daily. Kenny Lossman said his son paints anywhere from three to six paintings each night. He said the cost of J.J.’s painting supplies are very expensive, but he assures that comes out of their pockets and not J.J.’s funds.
“He paints about his day, how he is feeling and if he has had a bad day you can tell it from his pictures,” Ramie Lossman said.
“We think his choice of color is based on his mood,” Kenny Lossman said.
“The heavier and darker the paint means he is having, we think, a bad day,” Ramie Lossman said. “The brighter the colors usually means he has had a good day.”
Kenny Lossman said he feels bad because he finds that the paintings J.J. does on his bad days are the most appealing to him.
“On those days he does black and blues, and those are my favorite colored ones that he’s done,” Kenny Lossman said. “So I feel bad that some of the best ones are probably a product of a bad day.”
Kenny and Ramie Lossman both describe J.J.’s art as “very, very abstract” and said it is clear to see his progression and improvement throughout the years.
“What I see in something may not be what you see in something, or it may not have been what he intended to paint about,” Ramie Lossman said. “My dad will look at stuff and say that is totally a volcano with dragon wrapping around it and I am just like ‘no, dad that is a flower.’”
Ramie and Kenny Lossman said their whole house is full of J.J.’s canvases as well as Ramie’s parent’s house.
About three weeks ago, Ramie and Kenny Lossman started up a website they cleverly call, Hued by a Dude J.J., where they post photographs of his canvases and make them available for purchase upon donation only. The money raised from this art fundraiser goes directly to J.J. for his treatment costs. Lossman said donations are up to the person interested, but she has suggested amounts of $25 and up.
“We decided that he needed a service dog to help with aggressive because he tends to self-harm, which is typical for his age,” Ramie Lossman said. “He bites and hits his head–we were told a service dog would prevent that and step in between him and his fist and calm him down which is what he needs.”
“I think when we decided we wanted to get a service dog, which is very expensive, we just spontaneously said ‘well, why don’t we do a fundraiser, ’ and the paintings were perfect,” Kenny Lossman said.
On July 8, after only being posted on her Facebook for three minutes, Ramie Lossman said a painting of his sold for a $125 donation. On July 10, Ramie Lossman said she received $250 for a 12×12 canvas, from someone in Kansas, which is as of now is the largest donation J.J. has gotten. There are 17 or fewer available paintings on his website, as of today.
“A lot of people will do spaghetti dinners or sell T-shirts, and I am like ‘he is going to paint every day anyway and they are pretty amazing,’ well, we think they are pretty amazing,” Ramie Lossman said. “[The website] has skyrocketed, we are shipping paintings out to places like Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, Georgia and Kansas.”
Even though the Lossmans do not have an exact tally now, Ramie Lossman said she thinks they have easily raised a quarter of the cost of a service dog.
“Which is insane since we just started selling them not even three weeks ago,” Ramie Lossman said. “I kind of feel bad, I hope people aren’t just buying them to donate money. I think people like them. I have had people say, ‘well if this one is sold can you go back and get it from them we’ll give you so much money.”
“There are just so many that I wish would not sell,” Kenny Lossman said. “Because I want them for my office.”
Large donations for his works of art is not the only attention this young artist has been receiving. On July 8, local architect Charles Gillon asked the Lossmans if he could digitally add J.J.’s paintings inside his modern home designs on his website. These are virtual and will list his website as the location to buy the modern art, Ramie Lossman said. She said there was also an art gallery in Winston-Salem that wanted to display J.J.’s work. However, due to J.J.’s severe autism, he would not be able to handle the crowd and noise of an exhibition.
J.J.’s parents both work to support their family and J.J.’s treatment. While both parents are working, Ramie Lossman’s sister Daphine Spillman is the Lossmans’ live-in nanny for J.J.
Ramie started to tear up talking about how if something would happen to her, that her sister would step in and care for J.J. the way she would her to.
“J.J. has this sparkle in his eyes bursting with excitement, curiosity, and an eagerness to learn and share,” Spillman wrote in a text message. “Being Autistic and nonverbal, he has great days, good days and some not so good days. It is sometimes difficult for him to fully express to us what he thinks, feels and wants us to know. I feel he gets to express himself and some of his feelings through his amazing art, his songs, and awesome dances. To me, he is perfect, and I couldn’t imagine him any other way.”
As for the future, the Lossmans said that he may always be nonverbal and they both see J.J. living with them for the rest of their lives.
“We are totally OK with that,” Ramie Lossman said.
The Lossmans believe that J.J. will carry on with his art, not only because he likes it so much, but also because it is his only way to communicate with his family.
“He knows that we enjoy it too,” Ramie Lossman said. “He can only get better.”
“Yeah I would not say that five years is not just a phase,” Kenny Lossman said.
To parents whose children have an autism spectrum disorder, diagnosed or undiagnosed, the Lossmans urge them to skip over the denial stage and start looking for the red flags around six months.
“To us, he is perfect,” Kenny Lossman said. “I do not know if I would take it away from him if I could because I might be taking away things that truly make him extraordinary–like maybe the art or his memory.”
Ramie Lossman recommends parents of children with autism to read the poem “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley.
To view J.J.’s available paintings, check out www.huedbyadudejj.com.
To view local architect Charles Gillon’s website and see J.J.’s art, visit www.gillondesign.com