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Sunday, January 29, 2012

... of babies and monsters

What scares you? What do you love? Likes and dislikes are very personal things, and none more unique than those of people on the autism spectrum.

From the beginning, Adam loved monsters and skeletons and all things creepy ... Halloween was his "high holiday", and he learned to spell "skeleton" before he could spell "and" or "the". So we taught him everything from language arts to math and science using monsters and mayhem:

Sentence construction & comprehension - January 2000 - by Adam

Monsters were great! ... but babies? ... well, that was another story entirely. Adam found babies to be scary and unsettling - they would poke you in the eye, move your stuff, cry loudly - they were even more unpredictable in their actions than regular people (and that was saying something!).

Here is one of my all-time favourite stories drawn by Adam, answering the question "Which is more dangerous, a lion or a baby?"

I set up the situation by drawing the first square .... a baby encountering a sleeping lion:

... the baby takes action:

... the lion gets a rude awakening:

... look how scared the lion is, and how happy (and in control) the baby is:

... the baby has had his ride, and now he leaps off:

... love the theatrical flair as the baby casually lifts one leg and leans over towards the lion's tail:

... with one hand, that baby grabs the lion by the tail and swings it around his head:

... then sends the poor lion sailing off into the stratosphere:

.... babies are much more dangerous than lions!

And this is why I work in the field that I do ... I love the minds that see the world in such a different (but equally valid) way ... once you look through the eyes of autism, the world never looks quite so mundane and humdrum again.

And just in case you were wondering what might happen if a baby met an alligator .... here's one more picture for your education:

picture by Adam

... no contest!!!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Transformations and Everyday Magic

HAPPY NEW YEAR, and welcome back to the blog!!

Adam and the Magic Lamp - drawn by Adam (2001)

This is the season when our minds turn to changes and transformation. What would you wish for at the start of this new year if you found an old lamp and unearthed a genie?

Sometimes when life is difficult, we give up on wishing and hoping and dreaming. New Year's resolutions can seem like something meant for people who don't know how sharp a left turn life can take, people who have not yet experienced an event they can't budget or diet their way out of.

While you may not be able to use a "genie wish" to change the basic circumstances of your life, you can still try this bit of everyday transformative magic: choosing to change your perspective can change your daily reality. Sounds simple, but it's true.

Here's the challenge: How about taking a week and rather than thinking about the deficits and challenges your person with autism must deal with, instead focus your attention on the gifts and talents they also possess? 

And to illustrate my point, as always, a couple of stories (about transformations of the visual kind):

Here is a story that was drawn by Adam when he was 11 years old (just one of a series he drew involving magic and transformations):

The story shows humour and imagination, people interactions and emotional reactions. He was fascinated by plot lines where witches and wizards used magic to transform people into animals (his favourite movies were "The Emperor's New Groove", "Shrek" and "Aladdin"), and he loved to create his own fairy-tale story lines. None of this rich thinking was evident in his spoken or written work at the time - we had to move into the unconventional context of purely visual communication to connect with the true creative intellect that lay underneath the more obvious surface deficits of impaired verbal language.

Michael is another young man that I work with who has always been fascinated by visual transformations. Awkward social situations where he has removed hats and glasses from strangers in public places turned out to be his attempt to see what people looked like with and without the extra features (something we discovered as we drew out the problematic situations).

Animation turned out to be a perfect medium for him to explore this visual interest without the downside of negative social reactions. Here is a movie that he and I made together a few years ago - he drew the storyboard and I used Flash to animate it for him (click on the title under the picture to activate the link):

Again, you can see the humour and emotion in the short story sequence - an interesting glimpse into the thoughts running through his head.

This year we have been using Michael's high interest in visual changes to encourage him to start to learn how to use animation and movie software himself. Our focus is to transform those initially challenging social situations into real-world skills that he can use for enjoyment and maybe even eventually employment. 

And so, some food for thought as you start off 2012:  Life is ever a mixture: good and bad, easy and hard, happy and sad. But, whatever the circumstances, the transforming choice you always have is whether you focus your attention on the full or the empty part of the glass.

... so bottoms up! and savour the sweet part to the last drop.