For Max Miller, what started as a hobby and a way to get his emotions out is now helping kids with autism around the world.
The 14-year-old was told that he would never be able to speak when doctors diagnosed him with autism at the age of 5 — but boy were they wrong.
At the age of 12, he became a published author with the book "Hello My Name Is Max and I Have Autism," which has now sold thousands of copies.
"Art saved my life and completely changed me as a human," Max told TODAY.
Since the teen from Thorton, Colorado, wasn't able to speak until he was 6 years old, he would communicate with his mom through drawings.
It started one day when Max became frustrated when she didn't understand what he needed, so she told him to draw it instead. The picture he handed her showed a glass of milk with an arrow pointing to the fridge.
"It was an incredible breakthrough," Rebecca Miller, Max's mom, told TODAY. "It started to evolve more into how he was feeling on the inside. Words still escape him from time to time, but emotion is something he's always understood."
When he would have a bad day at school after dealing with bullies and feeling different, he found solace in art. One day he came home with a dark and stormy picture of himself sitting at his desk in a corner surrounded by swirls of red and black clouds, which his mom found striking.
"I had no idea how autism affected my own son and it just broke my heart," Miller said.
In the fourth grade, he was accepted into a special program at Eagleview Elementary School, which is when things started to take a turn and he was able to spend more time exploring his passion for art. The school was so impressed with his work that they asked to hang up one of his pieces in the hallway, which of course made Max ecstatic.
When he and his mom sat down to come up with descriptions for his drawings, he started explaining what each piece meant to him.
"I couldn't believe what was coming out of his mouth," Miller said. "The way he was articulating and stringing sentences together was just brilliant."
Once his art hit the school's walls, Max started to get a lot of attention and made his classmates realize he's not much different from them. When they read the descriptions, they said they felt that way, too.
"It took the mystery out of autism," Miller said. "It made Max feel accepted because they could finally understand him and felt a validation of what they were feeling too."
"I finally felt like a person instead of a shadow," Max said. "I didn't feel like anyone hated me anymore. People actually talked to me, listened to me and respected me. It was awesome."
As word about his work spread, he was asked to bring pieces to multiple events. But when that got to be too much, Max came up with the idea of putting his art in a book to reach a larger audience. So they launched a GoFundMe page, and within a month, they had raised enough money to pay for printing.
When Max found out that another boy with autism in Tennessee named Christopher Miller was suicidal, he sent him a copy of his book, a box of art supplies and a personal letter — so that Christopher would know he wasn't alone.
Christopher even went on to publish his own book called "Captain Spectrum," which originated from a picture he drew of the superhero.
Max's exchange with the young boy inspired him to start donating Art Start Kits to low-income children on the autism spectrum.
"I learned how to express myself through art," said Max, "and am so happy to be able to give that gift to other kids now."