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Father and son launch exhibition at Hamilton Artists Inc.

Twenty-five-year-old autistic artist paints with his father.
David Lattanzi and his father, Paul, paint together at the Freeway Cafe. (Supplied)

Once a week you can find Paul Lattanzi, 56, and his son David, 25, in the basement of the Freeway Cafe at Wellington and King streets, working on their individual art works.

Father and son, who live together in downtown Hamilton, have been painting together for more than two years now.

For Paul, it's all part of his lifelong interest in art. For his son, who has autism, however, it's a much-needed outlet for self-expression.

A few years ago, Lattanzi heard that the Salvation Army on Main Street was offering art classes for adults who suffer from autism. The amateur artist who'd taken a few courses of his own at various places previously, signed his son up for the classes. 

"I chose the art classes because I thought he'd enjoy it," said Lattanzi, who attends with Dave. 

Enjoy it he did. Lattanzi said that painting classes play a pivotal role in his son's life now.

"It's a way for him to express himself. He really enjoys painting," he said.

But perhaps even more crucial, said Lattanzi, the classes provide his son a way to connect with others in the community. "It's a social thing for him . . . it's so difficult to get autistics involved in social life."

"This is a good way for him to be involved," he added.

On Oct. 11. both father and son will share their artworks with the community in an exhibition at Hamilton Artists Inc. on James Street North. The show is called 'Like a Rolling Stone' and will feature 12 paintings from Paul, 10 from Dave and a collection of photographs from professional photographer David McEachern, who is known for his photos of musicians.

All three attended the Tragically Hip concert at Ivor Wynne on Saturday and Lattanzi said he hopes some of the pictures of the band McEachern took that night will make the exhibit.

'Knocked me over with a feather'

Dave Lattanzi was just shy of his third birthday when doctors at Chedoke Hospital in Hamilton diagnosed him as being autistic.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather," said the elder Lattanzi, describing how the news that his son was suffering from autism struck him then.

Lattanzi admits that at the time he wasn't even sure what autism was — this was more than 20 years ago —  or how his son's condition could be treated. What he did know: there was something deeply troubling his child.

"I almost thought he was deaf," said Lattanzi, describing his son's lack of responsiveness and what prompted him to take him to doctors. "He wouldn't respond to his own name."

Lattanzi said the boy would often play quietly by himself. Sometimes he would rock back and forth and moan. In high school, Dave was put on medication to help deal with violent outbursts. Now, he's off medication and his propensity for violent tantrums has dissipated.

Lattanzi, who raised Dave, now 25, and daughter Melissa, largely on his own, said it hasn't been an easy road for the trio. Lattanzi has his own health problems and both he and Dave rely on ODSB to help make ends meet.

For the family, the show is a "thrill" said the elder Lattanzi.

"I’m very excited about the show! I’ve watched David paint so I know how much it means to him to create art. I’m thrilled that my dad and brother have been given this opportunity to share their creativity with the Hamilton community. I couldn’t be more proud of them both!" said Melissa.

Originally, Lattanzi simply wanted to put on a show of his work with McEachern, who is a family friend. Later, he thought "why not include my son as well? He has all of these paintings."

Dave, who is non-verbal, has also sold four of his paintings in various sales this year, said Lattanzi.

Lattanzi said he thinks this could be the first of many shows. He's also grateful for the support of the Salvation Army and the Hamilton Artists Inc.

"There isn't a lot out there," he said, referring to the few programs for adult autistics out there.

The opening reception is Oct. 11 from 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m at Hamilton Artists Inc., 155 James St. N. The show runs until Nov 10.

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