Autistic artist speaks out against bullying
D.J. Svoboda will not look you in the eye. He will not reach out to shake your hand when you meet him. He speaks in an upbeat tone similar to that of a young child. However, Svoboda is 31 years old.
At age 3, Svoboda was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder with psychomotor retardation. To Svoboda, this is not a disability but a chance to share with people around the nation through his talks, books and artwork the importance of acceptance of everyone.
On Monday, Svoboda visited Granite Falls Middle School and spoke with all three grade levels about the horrors of bullying. When he was a child, Svoboda said, his classmates picked him on both verbally and physically.
Using of his drawn characters, he explained to the students how bullying can be harmful to those who are picked on. He calls his characters Imagifriends from the fictional world of Imagiville, which exists as a website. Svoboda said he has created more than 3,500 Imagifriends since October 2001.
“It started as doodling and sketching just for fun in middle school,” Svoboda said. "They come in all different shapes, colors and designs.”
The main Imagifriend is Mupperezmo. The colorful character resembles a dragon with a long, reptilian face. He sports a horn on the end of his nose because Svoboda’s favorite animal is the rhinoceros. His scales are every color of the rainbow but mostly blue, Svoboda’s favorite color. Mupperezmo’s head is turned upside down because he sees the world from a “different point of view,” Svoboda said. Svoboda calls him the “Mickey Mouse of the whole operation” because he is the most popular character of Imagiville. Other characters include The Shy Guy, who is so shy he wears a lampshade on his head, and Gupper-Rupper, the butterfly who greets everyone who enters Imagiville.
Svoboda said he refuses to let the memories of bullying haunt him. Instead, he wants to defend every child who encounters bullying.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to speak up, because it’s important to stand up,” Svoboda said. “Bullying is unacceptable and not OK. And, you need to report it. It’s not tattling; it’s not squealing. It’s reporting.”
Svoboda also shared the message with students to follow their dreams. He had them stand from their seats and repeat after him how they would never give up on their goals.
“Dream big, never let them go, and never ever give up on them,” Svoboda said.
Visit Imagiville at www.myimagiville.com to meet D.J. Svoboda's colorful cast of characters and learn about the importance of standing up against bullying.