Art has opened a lot of doors for Tim Sharp that would otherwise have been closed.
Now 23, Sharp was diagnosed at age three with autism, a condition that limits the ability to communicate and to form relationships.
The advice of one doctor was "that the best thing to do was put him away and forget about him". Thankfully, that advice was ignored.
As Sharp grew older, drawing became a way for him to communicate, revealing his personality, intelligence and sense of humour.
At 11 he invented a cartoon superhero called Laser Beak Man. His colourful Laser Beak Man artworks are now keenly sought by public and private collectors and have been exhibited at the Sydney Opera House and the National Museum of Australia, as well as in Washington DC and New York City.
In 2010 an animated Laser Beak Man series was developed for ABC-TV.
This year Sharp visited New York in May for the screening of a short film about his art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and went to Nashville last month for a music festival that he had inspired.
He has also been working with the Sydney Theatre Company and Victoria's Back to Back Theatre to develop a play. Laser Beak Man the play will make its stage debut as part of the STC's 2013 program.
Sharp, a Queenslander, has developed strong ties with the Illawarra, visiting every year for Aspect South Coast School's annual Artists with Autism Exhibition, now in its fifth year.
As well as contributing artworks to the exhibition, Sharp visits Aspect classrooms to talk to the students about Laser Beak Man.
His mother, Judy Sharp, said they were looking forward to their Wollongong visit.
"It's like a family re-union," she said. "We love to go back and catch up with people and see the kids and how well they are doing.
"They do such a good job with the kids down there. Every year you can see so much progress and development with the kids."
Judy said the event in Nashville - the 'I Am What I Am' Music Festival and Benefit For Autism - came about because of the friendship Tim struck up with Nashville rock band The Ghost Ballerinas.
The band was looking for an artist to do their album cover and came across Tim's work when they did a Google search on colourful, happy art. He ended up doing the cover, while the band wrote a song called "Laser Beak Man".
"They were so inspired by Tim that they put on a music festival supporting people with autism," Judy said.
"We thought, 'wow this is pretty huge, we'd better go over'. It was an all-day, all-night festival, they had 25 bands on three stages.
"It was on the news and everything over there and he was treated like a rock star.
"It was really lovely because it was a whole bunch of young rock'n'rollers and kids with autism and everyone was included.
"I got a fellow to film it so we can make a short documentary about it because we need to show more examples of inclusion in society like that."
Tim Sharp's artwork can be seen at the Artists with Autism exhibition, on this Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm at North Wollongong Surf Lifesaving Club.