Kim Miller is an artist first.

Her work speaks for itself — her pencil describes anguish and frustration, love and joy — all the feelings she has been unable to convey throughout her life.

Miller is autistic second.

As an articulate 20-year-old, the Roseburg resident can look a person in the eye and clearly explain her thoughts. But through her childhood, adolescence and teen years, communication didn’t come naturally.

Teaming with her biggest advocate, her mother, Eileen Miller, Kim illustrated a book titled, “The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures.” The book is a harmony of Eileen’s story and Kim’s drawings from ages 3 to 19.

Eileen and her husband, John, realized early that their child was different. Eileen explained Kim as a “walking time bomb” before the girl was able to express herself through art. Kim didn’t smile, laugh or cry. She didn’t begin talking in full sentences until the first grade and even then, it was often in delayed echolalia — the repetition of a phrase after a period of time, such as snippets from television commercials or quotes from movies.

When Kim was 3, she used a pen for the first time to draw a face. Her parents had no idea the dots and lines would change the direction of their lives forever.

In her pictures, Kim always drew herself as a happy girl — in one picture titled, “You and Me,” she is smiling and holding hands with her mother. In real life, touch was agonizing for Kim.

When she was 4, the family went to the local fair. Eileen writes that Kim sat stone-faced through a carousel ride, “not betraying any emotion as she went round and round.”

Almost two weeks later, Kim drew herself on the horse, a big, beaming smile on her face.

The dichotomy between Kim in real life and Kim on paper is evident throughout the book.

As Kim grew older, she illustrated the obstacles she faced during her daily routine, such as sensitivity to noise. As a 12-year-old, she created a drawing titled, “Today.” In the picture, she has her hands over her ears, a word bubble from her mouth screams, “I can’t take it!”

The crunch from someone eating cereal was enough to spoil her day.

As Kim got older and her drawings became more elaborate and personal, the family had to search through Kim’s notebooks to find any clues as to what their daughter was feeling.

“You had to dig for it, look for it,” said Eileen. “She wouldn’t just hand it to you. We had to be very active.”

As soon as Kim began drawing about her sensitivity to hearing, Eileen was able to advocate for her. When Kim drew a picture of kids chasing her home from school, Eileen could identify the kids from the details in the picture.

And when Kim’s pictures were heartbreaking —such as the self-portrait of a 13-year-old clutching a blanket, a tear rolling from her eye as she realizes she is autistic — Eileen was able to console her daughter.

She also could use the drawings to Kim’s advantage. Eileen would prepare teachers for the school year with a portfolio of art.

“Kim was afforded opportunity because of her drawings,” said Eileen. “They realized she wasn’t a glass half-empty. She was a glass half-full.”

The Miller family was discovering Kim’s needs through her art.

And for Kim, art was an outlet. She was able to express her loathing of the word “retarded,” or the feeling of rejection.

Masks were a common thread in many of her drawings.

“One reason is I adore ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ And second, one of the things interesting to me is deception or outward appearances,” said Kim, who added with a smile, “And I like costumey stuff.”

When Kim was 6, local doctor Robert Nickel suggested Eileen write a book about the family’s experience.

About 10 years later, Eileen began shopping around for publishing companies that might be interested in “The Girl Who Spoke With Pictures,” a longer and more in-depth manuscript. Jessica Kingsley Publishers asked that Eileen focus more on Kim and her art. The book today is a product of that request.

The Millers’ personal journey serves as a lesson about autism and communication between parents and their children.

Kim has her own idea of how she would like people to interpret the book.

“Autistic people have a lot of potential,” she said.

The mother and daughter are hoping for a book tour.

Kim has taken some time off from school at Umpqua Community College to enjoy the success of “The Girl Who Spoke With Pictures,” and she continues to eclipse the limitations of words through art.

“I don’t think I could go on living without creating art,” said Kim. “It’s like a heart beating, or breathing.”

• You can reach reporter Cara Pallone at 957-4208 or by e-mail at cpallone@nrtoday.com.