Creativity we find through play and stories of delight.
“Look mummy, I’m a crane! I’m a crane and I’m saving Thomas. Thomas is crashed and needs my help!” The excited little voice I’m listening to belongs my son who is playing a game with his beloved Thomas the Tank Engine trains and is role playing as the different characters, changing his voice for each one as they travel about on his recreation of the Island of Sodor and at this particular moment is using his arm and clenched up hand as a pretend crane to rescue poor Thomas who has run aground.
I watch the game with a full and happy heart. My son is sharing as best as he can with his little brother, H, who always seems to end up with the trains J likes the least but also never seems to mind as he too is thrilled to be included in these games fuelled by J’s imagination. It is as though H understands this is something really special he is being invited into and for the most part they share a relatively relaxed game. Of course they squabble here and there and when my back is turned I would be willing to bet that they snatch things from one another and the like but for the most part they play happily (typically, you might even say).
The happy games of a “nearly 4 year old” are lovely to watch as you see them discover the world around them and question the existence of everything with that age old pondering..... “But why?” It is fun to become the inhabitant of that beautiful world that a child lives in so full of innocence and magic.
These games were not expected though in our house. I am grateful and in awe that I get to play in this world I thought would never exist for my boy. The stereotypes surrounding a diagnosis of Autism include that of a child trapped in a lonely world without imagination. Those who have read any of my previous pieces would know I am not one to buy into stereotypes but I do remember watching my baby boy line up his trains in meticulous fashion and rearrange them over and over again in a perfect pattern known only to him and thinking it would be very unlikely that we would ever experience the typical games of tea parties, making mud pies in the sand pit or having a treasure hunt as pirates in the back yard. The word creativity was not one I associated with life on the spectrum but how I am learning that what I assumed and what is the truth are two very different things! The word creativity to me meant painting or writing or playing a musical instrument among other pursuits throughout the art world. Whilst J has shown no sign of a stereotypical but also apparently very rare savant like ability you hear of about some people on the spectrum in any of these endeavours, he is exploring a wide array of interests and is a fine story teller I’ve noticed. I see the development of his imagination which is surely the beginnings of a world of creativity and potential. For now he is becoming an expert in a child’s work or occupation of play and stories. He is an expert in using an imagination I’m sure many would not expect him to have. His imagination is for the moment his creative endeavour and how I love it when I have the pleasure of being invited to play in his games filled with adventure and fun.
The three of us had a pretend picnic in our backyard recently and made cups of tea with our Dora the Explorer tea set and water from the garden hose and our feast was of the plastic variety but was the most delicious I’ve ever tasted due to the beautiful company on my picnic blanket. We took a toy radio out with us and danced to tunes we made up out on the grass and listened to Jackson tell us a story about the ants from the grass coming to visit our blanket for lunch. His story of the ants consisted of us sharing our bounty of plastic food and that included a delicious, juicy red apple and sausage with sauce. “Yummy yummy” said Jackson. The ants enjoyed their lunch and returned to their home in the grass. Long after we had packed up our blanket and put the toy food set away, I shall remember that story and smile.
I understand this ability to imagine and tell a wonderful story is indeed not to be taken for granted. I smile to myself often when I hear his cars, his trains, his planes and all of his favourite automobiles chatting away to each other and helping each other out of all sorts of tricky and sticky situations that J has created for them.
Back in the early days, pre and post diagnosis I noticed J had an obsession with patterns and symbols that were thought to be because of the need for those on the Autism Spectrum’s need for order and reason. I’m not sure this is the simple end of the explanation for a natural tendency to be drawn to shapes and the like. Perhaps it is the beginning of an interest in art he can explore later on? I am constantly surprised at J’s unusual eye for shapes, colours and symbols. The details he loves to get lost in like a pattern on a shirt are details I would miss if he did not happily and excitedly point them out. I might have a top on I like simply because of the colours and have never really looked at properly and Jackson will point out the diamonds, the squares, the hearts, the curves and the straight lines in the pattern with such exuberant delight. If I give him a paintbrush and paints though he does not recreate the lines and the shapes he so loves to look at. His brush strokes are clumsy and perhaps even gauche. His enthusiasm is tangible however and again the talent for story telling emerges when he sees an accidentally created face within the swirls of his painted colours and exclaims the face is happy or sad.
I wondered if I could use this penchant for shapes and storytelling to his advantage and instead of giving him an overwhelming blank canvas to paint upon recently with the usual brushes, I cut shapes out of some sponges and scouring pads and filled up pots of paint. We started our project with a chat about his favourite topic of anything train related. We decided we would paint a train and as I showed him how his shapes could come together, before my eyes he had created his heart’s desire and “painted” a train by simply dipping the sponges in the paint and stamping the paper putting the sponge shapes in the pattern of a train. Between us we made up a story of a little blue train that was puffing downs the tracks very fast! The train blew lots of black smoke and the fireman shovelled coal to keep the engine running. Up hills our train went and past fields of cows and down to the station to drop off the passengers who were having a trip in the country.
The stories pop up wherever we are in fact. As we drive along in our car I often hear him narrating along in the back about what he sees along the way and what is going on outside the vehicle. Chattering away about how he sees the world and creating his own story about us in the car, surrounding cars, houses, animals and even traffic lights. The sound of a beautiful voice that I wondered if I would ever hear not so long back chatting away telling his stories. His wonderful, imaginative and creative stories are so unexpected from a child who society would overwhelmingly misunderstand and label a certain way upon hearing the word Autism.
Do I think his one great painting of a train and his lovely, lyrical and often funny little stories mean he will be the next Rembrandt or Shakespeare? Of course I don’t feel that it’s likely but I also can see no reason why he would or will be impaired in his endeavours should he pursue either field simply because he has Autism. I take comfort and again find the joy I speak so often of when talking about Jackson. I take joy in his discovery of his own creativity and the surprising and seemingly limitless imagination in a world I once thought would be limited indeed.
I look forward to more stories tomorrow when I see him again as he wakes up full of energy and tales of his fancy. I wonder if his stories are born of his dreams whilst he slumbers and I wonder what lovely games we will play in Jackson’s imagination tomorrow. I look forward to the games and stories tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day and forever.
Volume 1, Issue 5 October, 2009
Sharisa Joy Kochmeister, Publisher and Managing Editor
Jay Kochmeister, Copy Editor
Copyright 2009: All rights are reserved under copyright laws. No part of this magazine may be reproduced in any form - including written, mechanical or electronic means such as information storage and retreival systems, without the express written consent of the publisher.
This magazine is a great read for anyone who is living with or affected by Autism. I am a proud regular writer for the publication and have recently been appointed to the panel of advisers which is a huge honour.
For further information about how to subscribe to the magazine or join Sharisa's Yahoo group please contact her or Jan Kochmeister on Facebook. Subscription is free.
Link to Facebook fan page below:
Chantelle is a proud and happy mum to J and H and wife of Andrew. J lives on a quirky, colourful and unique spectrum which is more commonly known as living with Autism. Chantelle is passionate about raising awareness, volunteers with various Autism Services (NSW Australia) and is the Vice President of The Autism and Aspergers Support Group Inc (NSW, Australia Hawkesbury region). Chantelle
is also the creator of My Special Story – Special Story Books for Special Kids, a writer, an advocate and friend of Sharisa and the Autism community. http://myspecialstory.weeb