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Patients in the Spotlight: Mike Fess

Young Man with Autism Spreads Well Wishes through Art

Mike Fess’ passion for art began at a young age. When learning to write his name, Mike focused on the horizontal and vertical structure of each letter and began forming them into blocks. “ItMike Fess was like he was putting together a puzzle,” said Tom Fess, Mike’s dad. This was the first realization of Mike’s special gift and what would soon grow into a passion for drawing animals and sharing his work with people throughout the Rochester community.

Diagnosed with autism at 4 years old, Mike was enrolled at Stepping Stones Learning Center, a preschool that provides services for children birth to 21 years of age with and without special needs. Thanks to hard work by Mike and his family, and with the help of Stephen Sulkes, M.D., neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrician, and Jonathan Mink, M.D., chief of Child Neurology, at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), Mike has advanced and is doing well today.

Mike can finish most of his detailed illustrations within three minutes. He enjoys drawing a variety of animals, from dinosaurs to any breed of dog. “When I was a kid, I looked at picture books and TV shows that mostly featured animals and I wanted to draw the animals by studying their design,” Mike said. “Through the creative process, I got better over time.”

Dog drawingMike was recognized for his art work in sixth grade when the animal menagerie he created was selected as art of the year out of a district-wide search. “It still hangs in the hallway at the Iroquois Middle School,” Mike said.

After graduating from West Irondequoit High School, Mike attended a 2-year transition program that was run by the school district, BOCES, and St. John Fisher College. Throughout the two years, Mike learned various life skills, such as how to do laundry, how to use debit cards, and how to fill out a job application. He also spent time learning how to be his own advocate.

As prevalence rates have risen to 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys), Golisano Children’s Hospital has expanded its clinical, research and educational programs. In fact, the Autism Spectrum Disorder program is one of the seven priority pediatric programs being enhanced with Golisano Children’s Hospital’s $100 million campaign, which launched publicly in October 2011. In addition, the hospital is a very active member of the Autism Treatment Network, a group of 17 North American hospitals working together to establish a standard of care for children and youth with autism.

Now 21-years-old, Mike has shared his artistic talents with the community in a variety of ways. Mike has worked with St. John Fisher College in illustrating bookmarks and helping create an animal mural for preschoolers at School 16 in the Rochester City School District. He has designed t-shirts for autism walks and recently drew pictures of animals for guests at Seneca Park Zoo’s Zoofest.

Mike recently added a new accomplishment to his list of drawing endeavors. He started drawing for an e-card program called “Drawn to Give.” The program is a platform for organizations, such as Golisano Children’s Hospital, to raise funds through the sale of cause-specific electronic greeting cards.

Mike has contributed a variety of fun drawings to the Drawn to Give page. “I think that my drawings should definitely be perfect gifts for the children in the hospital, so they can feel happy and start feeling much better,” Mike said. “I’m honored to share my love for art and to give some of my art to all the children in the hospital.”