10-Year-Old Helps Other Autistic Children 'Find Their Dragon'

He designs t-shirts for a charitable organization

There’s no denying the impact that art and design can have on a person and society. From the moment a child picks up a crayon to draw squiggles of their world, the possibilities open up. But for a 10-year-old boy with autism in Philadelphia, it’s done so much more.

At the age of 5, Santino Stagliano was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and like so many others with similar situations, he had a difficult time expressing his thoughts and feelings. However, there was one thing Santino understood: dragons.

“He’d communicate through dragons,” explained Lisa Stagliano, his mother. “He would draw them all the time, and his emotions were explained through dragons.” That passion expanded in April 2015 when Lisa uploaded a photo of one of Santino’s dragons drawn onto a shirt—a therapeutic exercise for Santino—with the hashtag “#AutismAwareness.” Within weeks, they received dozens of requests for shirts.

Since then, Santino’s Dragons (santinosdragon.myshopify.com) have expanded into a non-profit, donating to the Center for Autism, creating after-school art and sports programs for kids on the spectrum, and setting their sights on opening a “Find Your Dragon” summer camp in Philadelphia in June 2016.

For more on this story, head over to the I&S blog.