A parade of colorful birds proclaim, “We’re all different, but we’re still just birds.” This is the world created by Eytan Nisinzweig, a Greenwich artist and pianist who has autism.
His parents, Susan and Dahni Nisinzweig, have just launched a website to share the message inherent in Eytan’s art: “respecting differences, discovering similarities and making a difference.”
Susan met Dahni while studying in Israel during her junior year abroad. Eytan, 25, is the eldest of the couple’s three children, who include Aviv, 23, and Yael, 19, a special-education major at Boston University. The family moved to Connecticut in 1992 to help start Giant Steps School, which serves children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), developmental disabilities, and related neurological impairments. They were also among the founders of Congregation Shir Ami in Greenwich in 2005, where Dahni teaches Hebrew.
Ten years ago, Susan attended a workshop to help parents of children with autism plan their children’s future. “The speaker asked, ‘What puts the biggest smile on your child’s face?’ For Eytan, it was playing music for an audience and drawing,” she says. “I came out of the workshop thinking that Eytan could perform for preschoolers.”
A teacher at Cos Cob School invited Eytan into her classroom, and soon, all 10 preschool teachers in the district wanted the young pianist to play for their students. Eytan now visits preschool classrooms three mornings a week, and once a month for the Christ Church Greenwich nursery school, where “they kvell over him” Susan says.
Not long ago, the young artist began to combine his two passions, creating drawings to illustrate the songs he played for the preschoolers. Then, Susan’s sister-in-law, who conducts research on autism, asked to use a drawing to print on the onesies given to babies participating in her studies. Susan thought the drawings would also work well on t-shirts.
Last October, a walkathon was organized by Abilis (formerly Greenwich ARC), where Dahni works with special-needs adults and where Eytan studies in a life-skills program. A staff-person encouraged Susan to sell t-shirts and notecards printed with Eytan’s art at the event. At the last minute, Susan and Eytan added phrases to the designs that expressed the importance of respecting differences.
“Now it’s these adorable pictures with a bigger meaning,” Susan says. Since then, the Nisinzweigs have donated the items to help various fundraisers around the country.
The family launched EytanArt.com in January, and the site has already attracted customers from 10 different countries, including Israel. Susan, a social worker by training, writes a blog on the site, sharing life lessons learned from Eytan. “The blog has been wonderfully fun because it gives me an opportunity to write articles to help other families,” she says.
“The posts are relevant to the autism spectrum and to anyone who’s been marginalized.”
Eytan takes piano lessons at Arts for Healing in New Canaan, a community-based center for people with learning and developmental disabilities. Last month, he was among several AFH students whose artwork was included in “Brush Strokes,” an exhibition at the Silvermine Guild Arts Center in New Canaan. The show moved to the New Canaan Y, and is slated to be displayed in the Bank of New Canaan and possibly at an area museum. In the meantime, says AFH founder and executive director Karen Nisenson, artwork by Eytan and other students can always be viewed at the center (www.artsforhealing.org).
“By pairing Eytan’s drawings with messages that his life has inspired me to share, we really hope that we have something here that can make a positive difference for people,” says Susan.
For more information: www.eytanart.com