Saturday, 9 January 2010

Drawing Autism

Since I'm stranded at the moment with a broken foot and sprained ankle, I've been thinking a lot about the autism & art workshops that I'll be helping tutor on this year. I'll be getting together with the wonderful Amelia who writes about her creative life. Pop over and have a look!

I 've found an interesting new book called Drawing Autism, by Jill Mullen which compiles the work of over fifty artists with autism. I like it because it doesn't concentrate on the artistic savants, like Stephen Wiltshire, who is well-known for producing amazing citiscapes but rather on unknown artists, whose work reflects their autism in some way.

There's lots of good stuff here. But one piece that I found particularly impressive was Rachel Mark's Metaphorical Maze. It is a clever visual representation of how hard it is for autistic people to understand non-literal language. For instance, Lyla nearly got upset the other day when I said her sister was 'crying her eyes out'. This was because she thought that her sister Mya's eyeballs would literally fall out if she cried. This is not because of a deficit in intelligence. It is because her autistic brain takes language at total face value. Another instance is if I ask Lyla 'Can you get your bag?', she will reply 'Yes' and do nothing. This is not awkwardness, she is answering that yes she can get her bag, not understanding that the question implies that she takes action. Instead I would need to ask her, 'Can you get your bag?' and then she would understand. I have constantly check my language to make sure it's clear and concise: too much language is hard to understand for autistic people and cause a great deal of stress. For Lyla, this often means challenging behaviour.

Another piece that I found very beautiful was Marliyn Cosmo's Strung Fairy. She says 'fairies are not quite of this world which I relate to'. I found this interesting as it echoes Professor Uta Frith's theory in her book Autism: Understanding the Enigma that autistic children were historically viewed as changelings or faery-children due to their ethereal beauty. There is often something faraway in the autistic gaze, simply because many autistic people find making eye contact so hard.

There's lots here to inspire. Hopefully we'll also have lots of wonderful artworks to share from our workshop soon!


  1. How did you break your foot? I hope its not too painful. I hear what you are saying about the 'Can you get your bag?'. I would often say to my neurotypical 7 year old 'Would you like to get your shoes on?' or some such and he says 'No thanks!'. At least I will be prepared when my non-verbal 2 year old becomes verbal. I had read about not using phrases like 'raining cats and dogs' but until one gets to practice it is hard not to use the phrases we are so used to. You will be posting pics of the artwork? I will look forward to that:) Jen

  2. Rachel, what a lovely blog. I'm so glad you came over my way and said hello. I'm trying to be a bit more present over there. I look forward to following you. Thanks too for writing about this book, I hadn't heard of it and it looks really terrific. Sorry about your foot!

  3. wow that's a great looking book and I LOVE that piece of art-work you have there, I want to look closer. Must have a look at the book!

    really interesting posts you have here . . .


  4. This made me smile, the literal thinking is something we have to remember all the time when talking to our kids. I did a post on this a while ago because I find it so fascinating.

    CJ xx

  5. Hi Jen- I managed to trip over a pair of child's shoes on the bottom step- so annoying!! Will definitely be posting pix of artwork, but unfortunately had to put off workshop for a few weeks because of my foot :)
    Kal- Hi & thankyou for following:) Looking forward to reading your blog too!
    Amelia- yeah, the book is beautiful, really inspiring- knew you'd love that piece!!- will have to look her up online.....
    CJ- hard isn't though to constantly check your language- I'll look up your piece, it's definitely something we can come back to on our blogs as it affects our lives so much and really is fascinating- like our wonderful kids :-)

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