At 8, she was a painting prodigy. At 17, she wants to be the next great artist.

When Autumn de Forest was 5, she picked up a paintbrush for the first time.


Part kid, part artist.

All photos and images via Autumn de Forest.

It wasn't long before she was ready to show the world what she could do.

The then-6-year-old asked her father if he could get her a booth at a local art-in-the-park program.

"People would come up to the booth, and they would talk to my father, and they'd say, 'This is great!'" she said. "Apparently they thought it was Take Your Daughter to Work Day."

Almost everyone thought the artwork was her father's. And when they found out that tiny Autumn was the artist, people couldn't believe their eyes.

Autumn created this piece when she was just 5 years old.

Soon, Autumn rose to national fame.

When Autumn was 8, she was featured on the Discovery Health Channel. There was a slew of media attention in the years that followed. There was Disney. There was The Today Show. There was Wendy Williams.

She was called a child genius, a prodigy, and an expert painter.

Suddenly, Autumn de Forest was everywhere.

But not everyone was so accepting of the young artist and her work. Some people in the art world had ... questions. Sure, she was good for a kid. But was her art actually good? Others wondered if the whole thing might be an elaborate hoax.

Autumn decided not to listen.

By 14 she developed a startlingly organized daily routine goes far beyond a 9 to 5.

Somehow, as the focus on her age begins to wear off, Autumn's work ethic and art only grow stronger. She said that most days, she'd wake up in her parents' Las Vegas home at 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, she'd break out her supplies for a one- or two-hour painting session.

From there, she dove into her school work. Most brick-and-mortar schools can't accommodate her travel schedule, so she did the majority of her schooling online.

Before dinner, it's back into the studio.

"That session can last much longer, that can be three or four hours when I really get into it," she said. "Then I probably have dinner and go to bed."

The results? They speak for themselves.

Her work has been displayed in galleries and exhibitions all over the world.

Autumn held a public demonstration before a showing at The Butler Institute of American Art.

In 2015, Autumn received the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award in Painting and Art.

The award took her to the Vatican for a private showing of her artwork with the pope.

She's also worked with the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, headed up by Michelle Obama.

As part of the program, de Forest traveled to underprivileged schools around the country and led painting workshops.

Oh, and if you're looking for some hard numbers to attach to Autumn's talent, she's got those, too.

Her paintings have raked in over $7 million at auctions over the years, much of which has gone directly to charities and disaster relief funds.

In 2017, the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville, Tennessee hosted a major solo exhibition for de Forest titled "Her White Room: The Art of Autumn de Forest."

That same year, de Forest was listed as one of Teen Vogue's "21 Under 21." In her profile she was praised for her talent as well as her commitment to art education.

"In dis­advantaged schools, they consider the arts an extracur­ricular activity," she told Teen Vogue. "It's devastating, as there could be child prodigies in these schools, but they don't know that they have this God-­given gift because they're not given the opportunity because there's nearly no art programs in schools."

In 2018, de Forest was featured in the music video for the song "Youth" by best-selling recording artists Shawn Mendes and Khalid. The video highlights exceptional young people working to change the world, including de Forest, Emma González, and Elias and Zion Phoenix.

The video has over 17 million plays on YouTube.

via Shawn Mendes / YouTube

Autumn de Forest on Instagram: “@aussiehairusa #purplelining”

Last summer she painted a beautiful mural called "The Purple Lining" at Miami's famed Wynwood Walls that seamlessly incorporated a tree growing behind the wall.

Autumn de Forest on Instagram: “So happy to be apart of @dickiesgirlofficial #independentmaker campaign! @jordankelseyknight @4am_gallery”

She says it's about "having the courage and the freedom to express yourself in whatever outlet you are the most passionate about." Proceeds from a pop-up shop at the mural went to her recently-created foundation.

The Autumn de Forest Foundation, helps her keep track of the kids she's met throughout the years and to continue to help them with their art careers. A portion of the foundation's money goes to a 529 account set up for the students while 10% goes to them directly.

"A lot of these kids that I work with, they're not very old, they're in second grade, third grade, fourth grade. Maybe in 10 years, they may only have four or five thousand dollars but that could be the difference between them going to college or not," Autumn told Teen Vogue.

Autumn's incredible rise in the art world is an astonishing feat for someone who's still in her teens. But that accomplishment is easily matched by her generosity and commitment to helping develop tomorrow's prodigies as well.

For more information, visit the Autumn de Forest Foundation.

This article was originally written by Evan Porter in 2016 and updated by Tod Perry in 2019.

Share image: Autumn de Forest.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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