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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Through the Eyes of Autism - part 1

This post is the first in a series inspired by a recent blog post written by "Mama Be Good" ( The Autism System: Not Good Enough ). 

In her post, the author (mom of a son with autism) talks about the unintentional messages we can give to our children, students and loved ones who have autism when our goal is "fixing" them. Without meaning to, we focus on the negatives - the "can't do's", the difficult behaviour and struggles with learning and interaction - to the point that we see a "to do" list rather than a person. We accidentally treat them as "less than", and this is a message they absorb.

Drawing for communication has allowed the people I work with to share their inner perceptions and perspectives on the situations they meet in their daily lives. Today I would like to invite you into a world that I have been privileged to see by sharing some drawings with you:

Brett is verbal (AS) but has difficulty discussing emotionally loaded topics. He never liked gym class, especially in the spring and fall when there were outdoor activities. To find out what was behind the distress, we discussed the situation through drawing.

note: I am sharing this very personal glimpse into Brett's mind with his permission (he thinks it might be helpful to you)

I drew out the initial class situation where the gym teacher is asking them to run laps around the outdoor track (Brett is the guy with the dark cloud over his head):

2006 - "the setup" by Sheila B

Then I handed the pen to Brett, and he drew out the next series of pictures:

2006 - by Brett

He had always referred to this gym activity as the "death run", and now we knew why. From his perspective, 5 laps in the hot sun was a trip around the world ... past the Eiffel Tower, through Russia and past the Taj Mahal, across the desert and past the Pyramids, across the ocean ... only to end up half-dead as "last runner in" with the gym teacher "tsk tsking". The sun was too hot, the run too long, the bugs (featured in other drawings of outdoor gym class) too annoying.

--- and may I just say here that my friend Brett's "dark humour" is his trademark, cutting and hilarious, constantly and effectively illustrating his frustration with the inflexibility and absurd assumptions of the NT world - I love it ---

He also drew out two "wishful thinking" alternatives to the "death run". 

One which I think he actually tried (a quick exit from class):

2006 - by Brett

and one which he only entertained in his "thought bubble" (running mini-laps):

2006 - by Brett


And educational. Once we knew Brett's perspective on the situation, it was possible to give him help and support that worked for him. I have to say that the teachers at Brett's schools were really good with him - respectful of the information that he put out through his drawings, and willing to accommodate because they could "see" where he was coming from.

Drawing for communication is an effective method to help the "helpers" understand how the person with ASD sees the situation - what do they want? what do they need? what's giving them trouble? - valid and important perspectives that provide the information we really need to help a person with ASD integrate and deal with the world to the extent that they need and want to.

Respect, love, humour and understanding .... that would be my prescription.

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