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The Pain You Can’t See

Natalie Career Dreams Poster

By Natalie Palumbo

Early in the summer, I received a letter notifying me that my school district was honoring me for ‘My Career Dreams’ poster during the June district meeting.  My entry for the National Career Development Poster Contest had placed first in state, and third place nationally.  The June meeting date, as well as the July date, fell during my Precollege session at Ringling College of Art and Design.  Thankfully, the district rescheduled me for August on the last day of summer vacation.

I spent that day organizing my supplies for the first day of school, and finally getting my learner’s Natalie Centurypermit.  This is my senior year.  My older brother Anthony has low verbal autism, and aged out of special education services June 2012, and is now home full time with my mom.  Anthony is prone to very loud echolalia which he can’t control.  Family events requiring a respectful silence are handled by one parent staying home with Anthony, and the other parent attending the event.  My father’s work schedule had interfered with many of my art recognitions over the years.  My mother did not want him to miss another opportunity, so my dad accompanied me and my mother stayed home with Anthony.

When my father and I arrived at the district auditorium, we were told that I was also being recognized for my senior project work, which led to my becoming a contributing editor for Age of Autism.  This came as a complete surprise.  We were prepared for my art acknowledgment, but had no idea there would be any recognition for Age of Autism.  My father was very proud they wanted to extend dual recognition.  However, it was emotionally bittersweet to have one child being recognized for accomplishments inspired by the other more vulnerable one.  We both couldn’t help but wonder what Anthony’s accomplishments might have been if autism hadn’t come to call.  Even our happy moments have a little pain underneath.

In attendance was Melissa Rawl, principal of Lexington High School, and Ken Lake, the principal of Lexington Technology Center.  The Board of Trustees welcomed everyone, and said the meeting would be brief because the school year was starting the next day.  They handed out a newsletter entitled “Proof Positive” which honors students and teachers receiving state, national, and international awards.  I was categorized under “Visual Arts Awards”.

Cynthia Smith, Chair of the Board of Trustees, asked me to come forward and stated, “At the end of Natalie and Superintendanther junior year, Natalie received honors for her visual art talent.  She won third place in the National Career Development Poster Contest for high school students.  Also, Natalie’s senior project garnered her attention from Age of Autism, a daily web newspaper.  Her senior project featured a work of art inspired by her brother and titled ‘NOT Born This Way’.  She posted the artwork and a description of her project on the Age of Autism’s Facebook page.  The overwhelming response landed her an interview with the organizers of the daily web newspaper who invited her to become their youngest contributing editor.  Congratulations Natalie on both of your accomplishments.”   Karen Woodward, Superintendent of Lexington 1, handed me my certificate.  The audience applauded and they snapped our photograph. 

Natalie NOT Born This WayI felt elated and overwhelmed.  I had chosen “Autism in Society: Media Portrayal Versus Reality” for my senior project for personal reasons.  I was shocked and extremely grateful that the district felt this accomplishment was important.  Over the years, I had grown used to having my feelings and concerns about Anthony disregarded by my peers.  District recognition of my research and contribution to Age of Autism came as a wonderful surprise.  To have such prominent support from teachers and administration gave me such a sense of relief to know my efforts had not gone unnoticed.

Moments like this seem like serendipity.  My career ambitions were being recognized along with my devotion to Anthony.  I embrace every opportunity because I want to make a comfortable life for my brother and me as we grow older.  Anthony inspires my artwork as well as my determination to succeed.   Knowing my school district supports me for my efforts makes me believe all my dreams are possible.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to be understood.  I never imagined such compassion from the people that surround me.

Natalie Palumbo is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.



Wow,Natalie- keep growing and keep shining.Congratulations,
love, knowledge and hard work will always be important.We
know that you put your heart and soul into this project.Stay
very strong and healthy and keep up the excellent work.I just love your smile with your brother on that picture. Looking at you and your special caring words,I think there is a hope for the future.


Wow, I think we are seeing the making of art history in real time, here! What a great contribution you are making to society already, and to future generations who will look back and wonder at how autism happened and how it changed the world. What a great example of why people should support the arts - Congratulations!

Jennifer Horne-Roberts

Congratulations Natalie; and very best wishes to you and Anthony, two wonderful young people.

Jennie and Keith, parents of Harry Horne-Roberts RIP, whom we lost aged 20 as the result of medical negligence. Harry had vaccine-injury autism.

London UK.


Well deserved recognition, Natalie. People are listening to you. Your image and your contributions to AoA tell your story and your brother's very well. More people are beginning to understand you and your perspective. In some ways it's not surprising that it's the schools who are getting it first. Families are on the front line in dealing with the autism crisis. School systems are feeling it too. Big applause to the school administrators for recognizing your design talents, your voice and your cause!

Stop Big Harma

I am so happy for you. You and your family truly deserve to relish this wonderful double-honor. How appropriate that your talent is also double - you express yourself so beautifully in both words and art. Your award-winning poster is exceptional and very professionally executed as well. The light in the word "media" shining on the hands that craft the career dreams is brilliant. We all look forward to watching your future unfold.

Cat Jameson

As you continue to speak up for Anthony your voice will get louder and stronger. Your message will reach more people which will help so many children...including mine. Thank you.

Christine Thompson


Your "Career Dreams" artwork/poster rocks!


Congratulations, Natalie!! While reading your article I was close to tears from start to finish - very moving! All the very best to you and your family, and thanks for writing!

Anne McElroy Dachel

Your voice is so important for everyone to listen to. I hope it gets louder and louder. Thank you for being a part of Age of Autism.

Anne Dachel, Media


This is great -- not only that they have rightfully awarded you-- you wonderful person -- but--- all those people that your message reached and got your message through to them!!!!.

This cause will have to begin as they say at the grass roots because the top heads have decided they will vaccinate regardless of the consequences. And you have done so much toward that end.
Thank you!

Teresa Conrick

Congratulations, Natalie.

We are so fortunate to have you on Age of Autism. Your talent and compassion seem so beyond your age. I am so glad you were able to feel compassion from others. Could be that your compassion is what helps others realize their own. I think it is important on this journey.

John Stone


You have wonderous talent and feeling.


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