Local teenager confronts adversity with art

Liliana Valero shows off a drawing she recently created, inspired by Disney characters. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Liliana Valero shows off a drawing she recently created, inspired by Disney characters. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Adversity is a universal characteristic of life, and it does not discriminate based on a person’s age or background. People from all walks of life face challenging obstacles, and how one chooses to face those obstacles can be a defining quality for who they are as a person.

Liliana Valero is only 14 years old, but knows precisely what it means to confront challenges. She is completely blind in her left eye, and is legally blind in her right eye. Liliana was also born prematurely and has Asperger syndrome and autism, which caused her to not speak until she was 5 years old.

It is clear even within the first few moments of talking with Liliana that this hardship has only fueled her determination, and she does not let her condition become a limitation.

“People treat me like I’m different,” said Liliana. “I’m the same as anyone else but I just do things at a different pace.”

Despite her restricted sight, Liliana’s passion for creating art is an outlet that has helped her thrive. Nicole Valero, Liliana’s mother, explained that her daughter’s right eye has 20/200 vision. This means that Liliana could read an eye chart at 20 feet as well as someone with regular vision could read it at 200 feet.

Liliana Valero holds up a drawing she made for her family. Although she is blind in one eye and has 20/200 vision in the other, Valero says her artistic process is the same as anyone else. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Liliana Valero holds up a drawing she made for her family. Although she is blind in one eye and has 20/200 vision in the other, Valero says her artistic process is the same as anyone else. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

“She can see shapes and figures, though she may not be able to recognize a person until you get very close to her,” added her father, Jerome Valero.

Liliana’s interest in art started when she was as young as 4 years old, and has continued to grow throughout her life. She says that her father’s creativity inspires her to keep developing her skills.

“I’m learning now to shade my art, and I mostly use pen or pencil to draw,” said Liliana. “I like to draw people, animals and Disney characters.”

She said that despite her vision, her process for creating art is the same as any other artist. Liliana draws both from her imagination and references she finds online and in real life.

Another aspect of Liliana’s life that can be immediately noticed upon meeting her is the powerful support system found through her family. She resides in Manistee with her parents and younger sister, Inocencia Valero. When traditional public schools proved to be a poor fit for Liliana, her parents took her education into their own hands.

Liliana struggled to keep up in the traditional school setting due to her condition and was uncomfortable asking questions when she did not understand concepts. Nicole said that her daughter was at a second grade reading level when she left the public school system, though she continued to pass each grade.

Jerome said that this is when they decided to try a different form of schooling.

“They were pushing her up grades before she was fully prepared for the next grade, so we thought we would give homeschooling a try,” he said.

This past school year, Liliana enrolled in Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, an online public school. Through this program, Liliana is able to work at her own pace with one-on-one instruction, and complete her schoolwork throughout the day.

The virtual academy is not a homeschooling program, but Nicole explained that Liliana receives a combination of online schooling and home schooling.

Liliana with her parents Nicole and Jerome Valero, and younger sister Inocencia Valero. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

Liliana with her parents Nicole and Jerome Valero, and younger sister Inocencia Valero. (Jane Bond/News Advocate)

“Half of her schooling is with the virtual academy where she does what they call ‘class connect’ with a teacher,” she said. “The other half is things that I have her do, like book work.”

Liliana has shown remarkable progress in this system. In just her first year, Liliana has gone from a second grade reading level to fourth grade, and her comprehension level has gone from third grade to sixth grade. Nicole said that part of this success is due to a more attentive learning environment.

“Since we are doubling up the parent and teacher role, she doesn’t feel frustrated or uncomfortable if she has questions,” she said. “At school, there wasn’t the time to have instructions repeated for her and she was often made to feel badly if she had to ask.”

Jerome says that homeschooling allows them to have a more hands-on approach in her education, and she is in a setting where she can constantly learn.

“It’s really an all-day learning environment, she never stops. Liliana always has a question for everything and so we are always teaching her,” said Jerome. “Watching the way she has developed and progressed makes me prouder every day.”

In addition to regular education, Liliana takes lessons in speech, mobility and braille. Nicole said that she has attended speech classes throughout her entire life, and started learning braille when she was 5 years old.

“Liliana is getting very good at it,” she said. “She has a friend who is completely blind and so they write back and forth to each other using the braille writer we have.”

The rapid progress Liliana has made through her unique educational experiences has set her up for a bright future. Liliana says that art has helped pave the way to make that future possible.

“I want to be an entrepreneur and work for either Disney or Nickelodeon to draw for them,” she said. “Art has helped me a lot. When I draw, I sometimes feel like I’m not even blind, I’m just a normal person.”

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