Columbia Falls resident Christine Wiley is using her love of art to help promote autism awareness.
The mother and grandmother of autistic children, Wiley has been hiding her painted rocks throughout the Flathead Valley with the hopes of steering people to her autism awareness Facebook page: Autism Rockz. With her efforts, she hopes to bring understanding to a condition that she says is most often misunderstood by many.
“A lot of people are confused about autism and there a lot of people out there who rush to judgment when they see a kid that is having an outburst. They quickly think that it is the parent’s fault or that the kid is just being a brat. That is so incorrect and not how autism works. There is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can’t be controlled,” Wiley said. “People should be patient and not to quick to judge. It’s a struggle for the child and for the parent. People need to be more understanding and more aware of what is going on and why.”
Wiley said she began painting rocks as a hobby a few years ago with the help of her mother, Arlis Herman. When the rock collection grew too large for her to keep, she began searching for a way to use them to help people. In just two months, she has already left more than 100 rocks in locations around Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Kalispell and says the response has been amazing.
“I have had a lot of people reaching out to me, including the Child Development Center, which specializes in working with autistic children. There has been a lot of positive feedback,” Wiley said.
The rocks themselves are all taken from along the Flathead River in Columbia Falls and decorated with acrylic paint and treated with a waterproof coating. Each rock can take between a few hours and a few days to complete, depending on the level of detail.
The designs range from seasonal themes and recognizable characters to more whimsical designs, such as her “Montana rock slide” and a group of rocks together to form a “rock concert.”
“There’s really nothing you can’t do with them. There are so many subjects and themes than can be used to grab people’s attention,” she said. “I just want people to visit the Facebook page we put on the rocks. People are more than welcome to keep them or to hide them again, I just want people to visit our webpage so they can learn more about autism.”
Wiley’s son, Dylan, graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2014 and says he is proud of what his mom is doing to help educate the public about the struggles of dealing with autism.
“I have autism and it’s awful to go through everyday. People make fun of you and it can be embarrassing,” he said. “People need to be more understanding. Maybe, if people can realize what autism is, they can be nicer to people like me and those kids can have more friends.”
As for Wiley, she says she is happy with the response she has received so far and she will continue to raise autism awareness.
“I want to make people more aware and I am doing it one rock at a time,” she said.
For more information, visit Autism Rockz on Facebook or look for Wiley at the Columbia Falls Night of Lights Parade, where she plans on handing out some of her painted rocks.