Saturday, March 31, 2012

Art and Autism

I think about the connection between art and autism a lot. About how outside the box, committed to their singular vision both the artist and the autist, each in their own way, are.

I've been doing this for a while (see my best known post "From Autist to Artist") but it's been circling round my brain a lot these days, as Jacob's artwork has really taken off lately. Into the stratosphere.

If you've been following my facebook or Twitter streams you may have seen some of these:

"Bruce Wayne"
"Goku" (From Dragonball Z-Kai)
"Commissioner Gordon"
"Goku" (Again)
Drawing makes Jacob so happy. Time to draw is his big reward at school, and it's a great carrot.  You don't want to know how fast we go through a ream of paper these days. And I'm not complaining in the least.

What I am most struck with is the emotion in the faces he draws, even more then the details of certain parts like the ears (the ears!), or the way his noses look like noses; the way he captures a mouth with one line - and it so completely is a mouth.

This flies in the face of so much common "wisdom" about autistic people paying no attention to faces, or not being able to read facial expressions for emotion.

When I mentioned this along with a photo of Jake's art I posted on Facebook, a cyber-friend, who is herself on the spectrum, responded with this really interesting reflection:

What this has to do with his autism, if it's mere coincidence or if the way he perceives the world through its filters open up the artist space in him, all this is unknown and probably unknowable. And ultimately besides the point.

I don't have any answers here. This is just me ruminating out loud, in public (blogs are so lovely for that). And also, truth be told, showing off, sharing some of my son's wonderfulness with the world.

Because Jake deserves to be celebrated.

I do know this: Jake's drawings are alive, in the way that mere renderings are not. They are art, and he IS an artist. 

Jake is who he is.

A package deal.

An artist and an autist.

But mostly, he's just Jake.

My son.


I haven't been writing that much about autism here lately, as much as it suffuses our lives, and bits of it weave through almost every thing I do. The other bits of life have been more dominant.

But that's about to change. Tomorrow is April 1st, the beginning of Autism Awareness month, and Monday, April 2nd is International Autism Awareness Day.  And just in time for all of this, the CDC has released new figures for Autism rates that are making big news.

I'm sure you know the new numbers, but if you've been sitting in a cave and haven't heard:

1 in 88.

(And for boys it's 1 in 54.)

And these are figures for 2008.

Four years ago.

(A limited 2011 study? 1 in 38. No I'm not kidding.)

So I'm going to be talking about Autism a lot this month, and you should too.  Because it's not going away, and even if you don't have an autistic kid (or nephew or cousin) you are and will be affected by this.

And the autistic kids of today are going to be the autistic adults of tomorrow, contributing to and (re-)shaping our world. And figuring out how best to support them, how to establish a future world that nurtures and meets the needs of us all, really needs to be on all of our minds.

It sure is constantly on mine.

To be continued people... to be continued...


  1. stunning. absolutely stunning. do you suppose he'd let ethan write a narrative in which these characters would figure? a joint-authored comic? What your post makes me think about is spectrums: the wide range of persons who make up our world...and that over the centuries, the spectrum widens and widens (so in the west the spectrum was only white men, then white women, then people of color, then gays & lesbians, eetc etcc..) maybe our kids will live a world where the ENTIRE spectrum is available to them, including austism...

  2. Varda, those drawings are amazing. It doesn't surprise me that you would have another artist in your family, but I imagine it is very cool for you.

    Jack also loves to draw. I think it is very calming for him. He mostly draws out imaginary scenes from video games, so it's a whole other thing entirely, but I love to see him use that cool imagination of his to create.

  3. I love these drawings. SO amazing. And I like what Rachel said about facial expressions. It makes sense.

  4. An artist and an autist.

    Well said. And I agree.


  5. The expressions are astonishing. I am always amazed by the way true artists can capture things with on stroke of their pencil. Much like true writers can capture the heart of something with fewer words than us mere mortals. I look forward to this month of your writing.

  6. Wow! I am amazed by those drawings. Jack can't draw yet, and it is difficult for him to sort things visually. Lots of visual clutter in his life. I'm pretty sure he would be unable to recognize those drawings as faces, because it would be all lines (he would need color to differentiate it). It is really interesting to note the things his attention is drawn to, though. White space. Horizontal lines. Movement.

    Our kids are fascinating. Because of who they are.


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