If you or someone you care for has ever felt in deficit or ‘less than’ because of disability, you don’t want to miss Tim and Judy Sharp’s compelling story.
My Plan Manager recently had the pleasure of hosting a virtual event with Tim and his mum Judy for International Day of People with Disability, and we wanted to share their incredible tale of ability and resilience with others.
Tim started drawing Laser Beak Man, the superhero he always wanted in his life, when he was 11 years old. Today, he’s an internationally acclaimed artist whose work has been featured globally – including on Broadway and through TEDx – and showcased in stores in partnership with Australian brands, and in company boardrooms. He has travelled the world with his mum at his side to tell his story and bring his art to the attention of others, all while sharing one clear message: ‘believe in your dreams and walk the road to happiness’.
But, when Tim was born in 1988, this was far from their reality.
“At 20 days old, I was at the doctor asking ‘What’s wrong with my baby?’, Judy said. “I was back there nearly every week asking this question, without any answers. Instead, the suggestion was there was something wrong with me – that I wasn’t coping, that I was depressed, that I couldn’t do it.”
Tim couldn’t sleep, was awake for 36 hours at a time, and had trouble eating. Everyday sounds like a clattering cutlery draw would terrify him. He was constantly distressed, and strangers would randomly ask Judy what was wrong with her child.
But Judy’s biggest concern was that Tim wasn’t developing speech. If he could only tell her what was wrong, she could help him. But the doctors kept telling her to wait until Tim was three. So, she did.
A day after Tim’s third birthday, what Judy describes as the worst day of her life, Tim was diagnosed with autism. According to a medical specialist at the time, Tim’s barriers to life would be so severe that Judy should ‘put him away and forget about him’. The doctor said Tim would never speak, never go to school, have zero quality of life – and, worst of all, he would never love Judy, and would only ever use her as a tool for getting what he wanted.
The advice shattered Judy.
“By the time I got to the car, I was completely hysterical,” she said. “But as I was putting Tim in his car seat, he was patting me on the back and wiping my tears. He was comforting me.”
She could have listened to the specialist and quit parenting her son – but she didn’t. Instead, she started Tim on a course of intensive therapy. Finding learning institutions that would accept him in those days wasn’t easy, but she did it.
When Tim was four years old, it suddenly struck Judy: Tim was too young to read, but he could see. So, she sat down at the table and started drawing for Tim, despite possessing no artistic ability.
“Normally it would take all day to get his attention for a few short minutes,” said Judy. “But when I started drawing, he was fascinated.”
Seeing Tim’s reaction on that first day of drawing, Judy started sketching a schedule of what their day would look like, with the images clearly communicating their plans to Tim. When she put the pencil down, Tim pushed her hand back towards it – for the first time communicating to Judy what he wanted.
Less than 12 months later, Tim started drawing, and despite the doctor’s insensitive and incorrect advice, he did learn to speak.
At 11 years of age, Tim created Laser Beak Man, and he hasn’t stopped drawing him since.
When he was 16, Tim was selected to appear at the world’s largest arts festival for people with disability in Washington DC. However, getting Tim to the United States wasn’t easy for Judy, a single parent of two young children. The bank declined the loan request Judy submitted to finance the trip, however, as luck would have it, a mortgage broker selling loans knocked on her door, and after hearing her touching story, he pulled in a favour to get Judy financed – and she and Tim were on their way!
After Washington DC, Tim’s artwork quickly captivated the world, and his career took off. He exhibited at the Sydney Opera House and Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and he was named as a Young Australian of the Year finalist in recognition of his work to encourage autism awareness. A short time later, Tim was the first person with autism to have his art converted into television animation, with Laser Beak Man airing on ABC TV, and the Cartoon Network in Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.
From there, Tim’s successes kept stacking up. He was invited to appear as a speaker at TEDx, the Broadway-developed theatre production of Laser Beak Man opened, and a short film about his story was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He’s spoken on autism to a wide variety of audiences, seen the Laser Beak Man show tour Australian theatres, delivered a best-selling biography, and even partnered with a major Australian sock manufacturer to launch a line of Laser Beak Man-branded socks and sleepwear at David Jones. You can grab a pair that’s based on Tim’s ‘Raindeer’ artwork (pictured below) here.
“I was born to do my art, it makes me happy and it’s part of who I am,” said Tim. “I always try hard to be a good person and be the best I can be. A lot of incredible things have happened in my life and every day is a good day for me.”
Though every achievement, Tim’s mum Judy has been at her son’s side as his biggest fan and greatest supporter, showing that love, acceptance, and space to grow can lift the lid off incredible potential.
“This is how we’ve done autism from the very beginning: hand-in-hand, side-by-side, step-by-step, surrounded by love,” said Judy. “Tim teaches me the power of love every single day of his life, and what it can do.”
“All the cliches are true: love is the greatest, love conquers all – love who you are, love what you do and love this one short, precious life you have, because there is no one else like you.”
You can follow Tim and Judy’s journey at @laserbeakman on Instagram or at laserbeakman.com.