Jon's Story: Inspiration and Strength Through Art

Jon Lonon was born October 6, 1996. Until then his mother's pregnancy had gone as smoothly as possible, but on the day of delivery, there were complications. Barbara Lawson, his mother, was in labor for twenty-four hours and eventually had to be put into a medically induced sleep when it became apparent that she was utterly exhausted yet unable to rest. It was then that the real emergency occurred.

“I felt my uterus rip,” Mrs. Lawson remembers. When she awoke, she was told that the doctors had successfully removed Jon, but he was unable to breathe on his own. The doctors took him to the ICU to make sure that he would be able to survive and attached him to a respirator. For the first few days of his life all his mother saw of him were the pictures they brought down to her.

Mrs. Lawson was discharged from the hospital five days later and visited her son every day. “It was just amazing how he found the energy – and I know that it was God's will – [to survive],” she affirms. “Everything he needed to do, he did.”

Eventually she was allowed to take Jon home. It was not long after when she discovered Jon’s incredible propensity for art. At fifteen months Jon loved to take the newspaper and tear it into little strips. Before he was two he could use his stripped paper to create exact miniature replicas of the Holiday Inn. “We all assumed he was gifted,” Mrs. Lawson relates. Although they were undeniably correct in this conclusion, there was more to the story.

Mrs. Lawson's niece, who worked with  children with autism, came to visit the family when Jon was about two and a half. After seeing Jon's artwork and spending time with him, she said, “I hate to say this to you, but I'm going to say it: Jon has autism.” Her revelation came as an unexpected blow to Mrs. Lawson, who, like many people, was not even sure what  a diagnosis of autism meant.

She took Jon to see a doctor who officially corroborated the diagnosis and explained autism in layman's terms as “One side of his brain is a genius and the other side is very delayed.” After receiving the definitive analysis, Jon's mother enrolled him in a school for children with autism and later switched him to a public school.


His real education, however, came from a different source.“At four Jon started to play with Play-Doh. I would put him on the floor and he would just play,” Mrs. Lawson recalls. “Out of nowhere he just started making pictures with Play-Doh.” It became clear that Jon was not only “gifted,” he was a prodigy. At seven or eight years old his mother found him an art teacher named Joey, who expanded his repertoire to include sculpting and painting.


Jon continued to improve at an incredible rate, and at nine years old suddenly became obsessed with the weather channel. “He was making the meteorologist out of clay, making the weather forecast – it was just amazing.” Mrs. Lawson took her son to the weather station where he was welcomed with open arms and delighted the forecasters by knowing each one of their names. “They would say, 'What's my name?' and he would say, 'Angela Davis,'” Mrs. Lawson laughs.

Unfortunately it was not meant to last. When he was twelve years old, the weather station's increased security made it impossible for Jon to visit anymore, and worse still, his inspirational teacher Joey became ill. With his art teacher not able to continue, "the painting stopped,” Mrs. Lawson reports. She found Jon a mentor to lessen the sense of loss, but that teacher was soon promoted in his work and could not continue to spend time with Jon.

“Jon started to notice a lot of people leaving his life,” Mrs. Lawson says. It was about this time that Jon's teacher told her that Jon was having intense headaches at school. He had suffered from anxiety several years ago and been put on Risperdal. In January 2012 the medication made him so ill that he was forced to go to the hospital. There he and his mother learned the heartbreaking truth.

“[Jon] had lost most of his cognitive function. He lost so much – he lost memory, speech, and creativity. He wasn't even able to do his artwork.” But he still loved Play-Doh. The nurses periodically brought him some and he would diligently work the day away.


After several weeks, Jon was finally discharged from the hospital. Since then he has worked on recovering his cognitive function and his talent for creating art remains the same.  To continue nurturing his interest in art, Mrs. Lawson found another art instructor for Jon: a woman named Angela, who has a son with a disability. “Jon never stopped loving art,” his mother says passionately. “Sometimes I feel like that's what saved his life.”

Jon is now a renowned artist, and his artwork can be purchased at the Homegrown Decatur Store in Decatur, GA (see picture below). He also swims in the Special Olympics and plays baseball with the Miracle League and has garnered multiple silver and bronze medals. At a friend's suggestion his mother has made postcards using his art which they occasionally sell at art festivals. More important than the publicity, though, is the real pleasure that Jon receives from creating art.

“I'm just so proud,” Mrs. Lawson finishes. “Let me say this: I'm very proud of my son. I'm proud of what he has accomplished, I'm proud of his strength. He has been able to fight so many challenges in his life.” She feels that it is necessary to share Jon's work with the world because it is an inspiration: “I want him to be someone that [people] can learn from.” Jon has not let anything stop him from pursuing his passion, which makes him an admirable example for everyone.