A Gifted Overcomer – Catherine Froese Klassen

A Gifted Overcomer: Leland Lee


Leland Lee was born on May 29, 1989 to a Taiwanese American family in Los Angeles, California. At about 18 months of age, his parents noticed a drastic change in Leland’s behavior—from an interactive, verbal child to a whiny and crying toddler, who threw temper tantrums for no apparent reason. Most troubling of all was the fact that he had stopped communicating and regressed into a state of non-responsiveness and reclusion. After numerous diagnostics and testing, medical experts confirmed Leland to be autistic.

Leland’s parents first noticed his interest in art when he was about four years old. Within a short time, he had produced several hundred drawings, with no two being exactly alike. It was not until Leland was eight, though, that his talents were noticed. Experts from Leland’s school district heard about his ability and came to evaluate him by asking him to replicate some of the Renaissance masterpieces. He recreated them with amazing likeness and ease.

Leland also demonstrated ability for eidetic recall by replicating various scenes with remarkable detail and depth. His ability to replicate, however, did not diminish his inventive and creative skills. Leland expressed these skills in a personalized interpretation of original art.

The most remarkable aspect of Leland’s art is his unique perception of the world. What he lacks in verbal communication skills, God, he says, makes up by giving him an exceptional, visual acuity and vivid imagination.

Leland’s accomplishments in the field of art are many. He showed his work at several art exhibitions in Southern California and Taiwan and won numerous first-place prizes in competitions and festivals. He was also chosen as one of the “One Hundred Remarkable Kids” by the Los Angeles Times in 1999.

Art is not the only area in which Leland excels. As a competitive swimmer, he participated in a Special Olympics program at the age of ten and, as his progress increased, he earned a place on one of the city’s swim teams where he competed with regular swimmers. In Taiwan, in 2005, he won one gold and two silver medals in a national swimming event. He also finds time to help out the family-owned bakery, go horseback riding, play guitar and sing.

Leland has been chosen by Lin Z. Sheng, the winner of the 1997 Golden Palm Award in Cannes International Film Festival, as one of his subjects in a documentary film on autistic children, entitled, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Among the filming sites for this film are the Louvre, the Museum d’Orse, and the WCGTC 18th Biennial Conference. This documentary film will be presented at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in France in May.

As a consequence of Leland’s attendance at the Conference and his interaction with conference participants, particularly Olga Lockwood, he was invited to exhibit some of his artwork at the official opening of Lockwood’s Mozart School of Music in Vancouver at the end of September.

It was an honor to have Leland and a selected exhibition of his artwork at the Conference. Leland is a true example of those “gifted and talendted” children who are in the hearts and minds of the members and contributors of the WCGTC.

Catherine Froese Klassen

WCGTC Executive Administrator



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