Nate Catbagan, Life Coach
A renowned Dutch painter named Piet Mondrian once stated that, “Art is not made for anybody and is, at the same time, for everybody.” Many people communicate their individual life experiences and stories through art. Each have their our own unique ways of sharing them. Whether that be through creative writing, photography, singing, dancing, cooking, design, or other various artistic mediums. Their creativity forms a connection to people’s lives. For some it is a means of expressing ideas. And, others it is a way of saying, “This is who I am.” Those with developmental and intellectual disabilities may also find art as a significant means to express themselves. It is through art that people make connections to others and create meaningful experiences, including those with autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism in general is an impairment in the growth and development of the brain. People with autism may often have, “difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” (“What is Autism?” 1) Those who do exceptionally well in one particular ability above normalcy can be referred to as having savant syndrome which is closely associated with ASD. A definite diagnosis is made at the age of three and is found more commonly among boys. The cause of autism is still not completely known, but there are certain factors such as genetic risk genes, childhood vaccines, and environmental factors that are a big part of autism. However, despite the disability people with autism often discover a way to cultivate or nurture a skill that they find great interests in. For instance, artists with autism are able to communicate what they cannot verbally through visual representations.
In the book, Integrating Art into Early Intervention Treatment, it mentions that “art is an interesting crossroads for children with ASD because it is an activity in which strengths (visual learners, sensory interests) and deficits (imagination, need for sensory control) merge.” (1) Many artists with autism are able to open themselves up to others through their art work and it demonstrates a reflection of their own personal development. This universal language allows for further increasing strengths such as processing details and focused attention. And at the same time it also provides areas that need growth or improvement such as communication skills. As artists with autism seek this as a creative outlet it gives others a visual glimpse of their minds at work. In turn, these creative geniuses become empowered more than ever.
For instance, a current visual artist who has inspired many to see pass his disability is twenty six year old Tim Sharp. Sharp was diagnosed at a young age and his mother was told that he would be institutionalized. His mother did not allow that to happen. She was able to help him find his interest through self-expression. He is the creator of Laser Beak Man, a fictional character that is a superhero who looks like a bird with a cape. Most of Sharp’s work has this personalized character in it with cowboys and farm animals. Everything about his art is playful, vibrantly colored, lively, humorous, and at times almost a little over the edge. The work is ingenious and witty because the illustrations can be a play on words such as the piece called Batman where Laser Beak Man is actually handing Batman the superhero a bat. Or the piece called Picking Up Chicks where Laser Beak Man is literally picking up baby chickens. To hear Sharp’s inspiring story of how he found art as a means to bring light to his life and others is astounding. Art not only provided a sense of happiness for Sharp, but affected him by bringing insight, improvements, and independence in his life. It gave him insight on how to evoke his own challenges and find the joy in them. It allowed for improvement in skills such as being more social and outspoken about something he is so passionate about. Most of all art has given him freedom and independence to create a business for himself. All of this has not only empowered him to excel in his natural ability, but given others the chance to understand the importance of supporting artists with autism. These opportunities have allowed others to be educated in a creative sense.
As a life coach at InJOY I have had an incredible journey thus far spending quality time with several members with autism. And when I read about Sharp it automatically made me think of a member in my group. He is also a very clever and precise artist who impresses me when creating a new piece. With him I see the excitement and joy when he expresses himself artistically. An example is when he cuts and pastes construction paper to make images. He takes his time and takes into account every single detail. When he completes his work he amazes me because I am also interested in art. I think that when others see what he is capable of doing others will become inspired. And though my friend may have some limitations it does not limit his creativity. I believe that art is a gift that can be shared among many.
Martin, N. (2009). Integrating Art into Early Intervention Treatment: What it is about kids with
autism that draws them to art. In Art as an early intervention tool for children with autism (p. 28). London: Jessica Kingsley.
Meet Laser Beak Man, the world’s funniest superhero. (2015, June 25). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/meet-laser-beak-man-world039s-funniest-superhero
Piet Mondrian Quotes. (2011). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from http://www.piet-mondrian.org/piet- mondrian-quotes.jsp
The Connection Between Being Autistic and Being Artistic. (2012, December 18). Retrieved July
15, 2015, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/connection-between-autistic-and-artis tic-1218123
What Is Autism? (2015). Retrieved July 15, 2015, from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
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