Cleveland Heights, OH (WKYC) -- A typical day for 28-year-old Seth Chwast involves hours upon hours of working in his art studio, a brightly lit room on the third floor of his Cleveland Heights home.
"When he paints, he's happy," says Debra Chwast, Seth's mother.
For Seth, painting also allows him to communicate with the outside world, something he otherwise can't do.
"A little before [Seth] was two, we found out he was autistic," explains Debra. "He was sunny, he was happy, and he didn't talk."
Debra says she tried therapy after therapy to jump-start Seth's speaking, but nothing worked.
"When he was 12, I understood that he was not going to wake up and start speaking," she says. "Part of it was heartbreaking and part of it was liberating."
Instead on focusing on what Seth couldn't do, Debra insisted on tapping into his passions. That included many trips to haunted houses and rollercoaster parks. He also had an affinity for Nintendo games and even ballroom dancing.
But an art class that Seth took at the age of 20 changed everything.
"He hit the ground running," says Debra.
Seth's artwork has landed him on the "Today Show" and he has had exhibits all over the world, including the Cayman Islands, Ukraine and at the United Nations in New York City.
"I couldn't have a son who would be a doctor or go to Harvard. It was not in the cards, so I stopped thinking about everything that society taught me to value, and I just thought what is real and what's real is joy," Debra says.
For Seth, joy comes from putting paintbrush to canvas and sharing his work with the world around him.
"He says his paintings can make people all better and I think he's right."