Autistic student uses art as therapeutic tool

A Fox Chapel Area High School senior is channeling her love of art as a therapeutic tool.

Emily Hook, 17, is autistic, but her diagnosis came years after struggling with mental health issues that first surfaced in the third-grade.

“I’ve been creating art for as long as I can remember,” said Emily, who graduates June 5. “Art has been a beneficial tool for communicating my thoughts and emotions when I was unable to find the words to describe them.”

Emily lives in Aspinwall with her parents, John and Katherine Hook, brother William and the family pets — dachshunds Redd and Peyton.


Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review

Emily Hook, a senior at Fox Chapel High School, will attend Rhode Island School of Design, majoring in graphic design. Emily often creates artwork that represents her experiences related to living on the autism spectrum. She is joined on May 19 by her two dogs, Redd and Peyton.


Emily plans to attend Rhode Island School of Design in Providence this fall, majoring in graphic design.

In an example of life imitating art, Emily often creates artwork that represents her experiences related to living on the autism spectrum.

“I’m always intrigued to know what draws a person to a specific piece or how they feel looking at it,” she said.

Her favorite mediums are photography, digital illustrations, paint markers, paint, embroidery and collages.

Earlier this year, Emily won three Gold Key awards for her art portfolio in the Scholastic Art Awards, the first Fox Chapel Area School District student to do so.

Her mixed media piece, “Night in the City,” was nominated in the American Visions category.

Christine Smith, a computer art teacher at FCAHS, has taught Emily the last four years.

Smith praised Emily’s artistic style as unique.

“She’s learned to blend her photography skills with her drawing skills. We were thrilled to see it become so highly recognized by the regional level of scholastic judges when she received a gold key,” Smith said.


Courtesy of Emily Hook

An orignial mixed media piece created by Fox Chapel Area High School student Emily Hook. Hook will attend Rhode Island School of Design in Providence this fall.


Amy Wickman, a photography teacher at FCAHS, has taught Emily for three years.

“Her final portfolio work in AP photography was stellar. This theme-based work on the autistic mind shows mastery in skill, experimentation and research. Emily has set the bar high for the FCAHS art program and has shown her peers what it is to be an independent artist and develop work at a college level expectation.”

Emily’s mother Katherine said her daughter’s late diagnosis shed light on why many of the previous treatments and therapies did not alleviate her symptoms.

“She was able to realize that this was part of who she is,” said Katherine Hook.

For Emily, receiving a diagnosis during her late teens was challenging.

“I have now fully accepted the diagnosis and don’t see it as a weakness, but instead as a crucial piece in what has shaped me into the person I am today,” said Emily, who deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression.

“There is still a disheartening amount of stigma surrounding mental health, and in order to lesson the stigma, we need to normalize reaching out for help and talking about how we feel,” she said.

In addition to her artistic pursuits, Emily volunteers annually at Spin Your Wheels, a fitness-themed fundraiser held in Aspinwall.

This year, she created and donated a large raffle basket with pieces of her art, including a sticker with her take on a new symbol representing autism.

The sticker featured an infinity symbol made up of flowers.

“She brings a unique perspective to how we approach every aspect of Spin Your Wheels and without a doubt helped to make the day the success it was,” said event organizer and friend Jennifer Evashavik. “She’s truly amazing. Autism looks different on a lot of females. They are very good as “masking,” so many times they’re either misdiagnosed or diagnosed later in life, causing them to suffer mentally. With Emily, her diagnosis finally gave her answers and helped her persevere.”

When Emily isn’t creating original art she competes nationally as an indoor climber, enjoys reading, writing, the outdoors and spending time outdoors. Additionally, she’s a member of the Best Buddies Club at FCAHS.

Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joyce at 724-226-7725 , [email protected] or via Twitter .