As of 2015, autism is estimated to be affecting 24.8 million people worldwide, and 11-year-old Erato Kardula from Macedonia is one of them. Since the knowledge about autism in the tiny 2-million republic in Southeastern Europe is in its inception, parents of autistic children often discover there are no support mechanisms for integration in society. That’s why Erato’s father, artist and graphic designer Zoran Kardula decided to raise awareness about autism in a creative way – by publishing a graphic novel depicting his daughter’s world.
This is the world through Erato’s eyes
“SOYKA” (Mr. Sparkle; illustration: Anastasija Jovceska)
“KAYVEE” (Food and Wine; illustration: Tatjana Koceva)
“PAPATIVI” (Pants; illustration: Dejan Handziski)
“SITA” (Cedevita, illustration: Aleksandar Ilievski)
“SIYA BECECE” (Happy holidays; illustration: Emilija Misheva Stavrova)
Eleven years ago, our second daughter was born. We named her Erato. She was diagnosed with the autistic spectrum disorder, a condition that turned our lives around. It was as if we had entered a bewitched forest or a mysterious labyrinth. We walked from one place to another, looking for an exit, a salvation. We still do…
Following Erato through life taught us joy and happiness – we learned to laugh at things others found invisible.
Erato is exceptionally curious, cunning and mischievous. She always finds a way to get what she wants. She never gives up. She likes meeting people too. What she likes, even more, is to hug them and kiss them.
Her skill at handling her computer, tablet and smartphone is godly. She adores chocolate and candy. Going to the neighborhood store makes her unbelievably happy. She’s emotional and gets very sad when someone gets mad at her. The things she can see, and hear, are unknown to us.
Erato is rarely verbal. There are words she can articulate clearly, but there are also those that are her own creation. She finds it easy to split words into syllables, and pronounce them like that. As if she’s climbing on steps. But the moment she needs to say a word in its complete form at once – she will say her own version instead. The words she uses are always the same, and always intentional.
I wish I could talk to her. But that means she would have to enter our world, which is not happier than hers – I am certain.
I can only say this – if you’ve seen or met an autistic person, it only means that you’ve seen and met one autistic person.
– Dominika Kardula, mother
The language of Erato
But it is Erato’s father who made it possible for us to glimpse the world through the lanky, long-haired girl’s eyes.
Zoran Kardula, a famous artist, painter, and graphic designer couldn’t have given his autistic daughter a more wonderful present. He took all the words she invented (47 in total), invited artists and designers from the Republic of Macedonia to illustrate them, and turned Erato’s world into a book.
Now, everyone can learn the words, and find out what they mean. In a way, in addition to a present from a father to his daughter, the wonderful book is a gift to the world – a tool to better understand people with autism.
The book is called Guš i Bac, which are Erato-styled abbreviations of the Macedonian words gušne (hug) and baci (kiss). To make sure the words were well understood, the dad translated Erato’s vocabulary into 19 languages, including English, Macedonian, Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, Aromanian and so on. Thirty-three talented local artists joined the effort too – by creating thought-provoking illustrations for each of the 47 words.
Looking through the book, it can be said, is like experiencing magic
And magic is unfettered by the weight of reality – which is that life is often a struggle for people with autism. As the numbers of those diagnosed with the condition continue to rise, more and more movements around the world strive to ensure acceptance and increase awareness. World Autism Awareness Day, Light It Up Blue, and Autistic Pride Day are just a few of the many global events that seek to help autistic people and their families.
Art occasionally steps in too. Rain Man (starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise), depicted a character with autism who nonetheless possessed incredible talents and abilities. The 1988 movie won 4 Oscars, including Best Picture.
And the intentions of the Kardula family are very much the same. The promotion of the unique publication took place in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, as part of the celebration of December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Erato’s father Zoran says that the purpose of Guš i Bac is to raise awareness about autism, as well as the difficulties autistic persons have with integrating into society. His wife, mom Domnika, agrees.
She explained that for them, as parents, sending their little one to primary school was more traumatic than discovering that she had autism in the first place. In theory, the educational system in the 2-million landlocked country is inclusive and supports the right of every child to receive an education. But in reality, the story is somewhat different.
Ognen Janeski, a Macedonian journalist and TV personality, helped promote Erato’s world:
“It turned out there was no trace of ‘inclusion.’ In the course of one year, the school did nothing to secure a special education teacher. No matter how willing the staff and the teachers were to do anything to help, they didn’t succeed,” Dominika revealed.
Zoran looks at his wife, Dominika, with pride:
Surprisingly, fellow schoolchildren were quick to accept Erato, but it was the parents who felt discomfort, Domnika added. Some saw the inclusion of an autistic girl in the group as an obstacle to the progress of their children. Erato was, they feared, holding them back.
And it was these kinds of problems that drove Zoran, little Erato’s father, to do something about it. If ignorance and prejudice about autism was the root of the problem, he would create a project that would offer knowledge and raise awareness.
And so, Guš i Bac was born.
Professionals, scientists, and celebrities scrambled to help raise awareness as well.
Philologist Vesna Kostovska observed:
“Erato’s words convey what her internal world sounds like. To me, they sound inquisitive, optimistic, warm… Erato says bibivi, and we bonboni [candy]. Erato says sita, and we cedevita [a vitamin drink]. Erato says kapi, and we pukanki [popcorn]… Maybe Erato takes our words into her own world and converts them into her own language which feels more comfortable, more appropriate, mellower.”
“SAI” (Тooth brushing; illustration: Filip Velkovski)
Branko Tričkovski, a Macedonian journalist and publicist, had a unique take on the book. He said that Erato made her dad, Zoran, leave all artistic bluff and conceit behind:
“His work is just sublime; it’s an expression that reaches far beyond the usual idea of freedom, like a whole different level of understanding yourself. Erato is a sweet child that knocks down the monopolies of our mental mathematics. Taken as one: the book, the exhibition, the pictures, the graphics, and the life philosophy that all of these hint at, it could almost be the birth of a new religion: kardulism,” Tričkovski shared his inspired ideas.
I, for one, have a nagging suspicion that Erato is a wizard! She has to keep quiet and be careful around words, because she might accidentally perform a spell.
Guš i Bac is her spellbook that – try as we might – us ordinary humans just can’t understand. We can just stare in awe at the magic contained inside. And one day, hope to learn its secrets.
“SECHOVA” (Moon; illustration: Zoran Kardula)
“SHIKI” (Swings; illustration: Goran Kostovski)
“IBIYA” (Nivea cream; illustration: Igor Delov)
“API” (Sneakers; illustration: Vasil Shemkovski – Shemko)
“BAHA” (Flour; illustration: Nikola Radulovikj)
“IP” (Winnie the Pooh; illustration: Vlatko Ristov)
“ISADI” (Olives; illustration: Vencho Miloshevski)
“KAJN P’M’P” (Borders don’t exist; illustration: Vidana Boshkova Micevska)
“K’KAJ” (Dirty; illustration: Milan Stojanov)
“AJ SHI SHI” (Brand of chocolate – Best Wishes; illustration: Nebojsha Geleski – Bane)
“PIBA” (Parfume; illustration: Anastazija Manasievska)
“SHOSA” (Scissors; illustration: Nemanja Trajkovikj)
“SIBISHI KO SA SU” (Here for you; illustration: Vane Kosturanov)
“SOICA” (Chair; illustration: Marko Janev)
“TEBO” ( Teano/Erato’s sister); illustration: Ruki Chuki)
The funds raised from the sales of Guš i Bac, including the illustrations from the book and merchandise containing Kardula’s work, will go towards providing better conditions for autistic children from socially underprivileged families, as well as the professionals who work with them in Macedonia.
The first edition of the book sold out immediately, with numerous copies going abroad. If you would like to support the publication of the second one, which is currently around $1.000 short of seeing the light of day, contact the Kardula family through their Facebook page.
Do you know someone with autism, or want to help raise awareness? Share this article and spread the love for the world’s many Eratos! For the humbleness, joy, and perspectives they bring us, we owe them at least that much.