Today’s guest post is by my friend Becky Hallberg, who has a son with Asperger’s.
Autism is . . . Art Appreciation by Rebekah M. Hallberg
“He did WHAT?!”
Too many conversations have started this way in our home. Quite often they were tied to feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and misunderstanding. We would shake our heads in disbelief as the other recounted one more thing that had gone wrong. How could someone SO LITTLE cause problems that seemed SO BIG? And why did we seem powerless to stop him?
My name is Becky, and I’m married to my favorite person in the world! He and I have three wonderful kids, the middle one having Asperger’s Syndrome, sensory issues, auditory processing issues, and several other issues. A lot of the working out of his issues have involved art, and we have nicknamed him “Picasso.” Picasso has left his indelible mark on our home—on bathroom cabinets, on walls, on beds, baseboards, bedding, stuffed animal . . . you get the idea. His preferred method of art is with Sharpie markers, and you can imagine the frustration that ensues upon finding yet another “masterpiece” from Picasso.
When he was younger, the drawings were of the family, or just some scribbles, or he’d practice writing his letters. IN SHARPIE. On himself, or on various places in the home. He would draw or color for a time, but I truly believe it was something related to his sensory issues that would seek out the option of drawing on himself or on some other surface in our home.
In time, I spoke with one of his therapists about this and she mentioned that it was possibly his way of expression when he couldn’t “say the words”. I had no idea if she was right or not, yet I trusted her insights as she’s been working with children for so many years. Her words were confirmed one afternoon, probably three or four years ago now. That confirmation was a beautiful gift from God, right there in my hallway.
I climbed the stairs after naptime, although it wasn’t really “naptime” for Picasso, but mostly for his baby sister. It was my sanity time—time that I was pretty sure he’d be safe in his room, playing quietly or maybe resting or reading—and I could do simple things like finish my coffee (yes, at afternoon naptime!), or return an email or make a phone call. After I got them both up, I went to turn on the hall light to get some laundry gathered to wash. There it was, in turquoise ink, not Sharpie—the confirmation of what the therapist had said. Written around the light switch in the hallway were the words, “I love you Mommy.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. I had no sense of anger or frustration. I was overwhelmed with love. I knew exactly who had written it, and I was so glad it was a loving message. But it hadn’t been there when I put them in bed, which meant it happened at naptime. And so I asked him why he had written that. He answered with such sincerity, “Well, I wanted to say I love you to you, but you told me I had to stay in bed and so I wanted to write it down but I didn’t have any paper.” To this day I have not removed that from the wall upstairs.
And that was the day my perception changed. Until that day, the art had been a nuisance. His art had ruined things in our home and had required so much effort to clean up or remove. It always stirred up feelings of extreme frustration inside of me.
His way of coping with life was vastly different from that of his siblings. I didn’t understand it, I was unsure of how to help him, but I knew there was love. I knew that I loved him regardless of how very different his approach was to life. I knew that God had ordained this child for our family, just like He had done with our other two children. And that day, I knew that if I was going to get through to this child, it would need to be on his terms, as he was not yet capable of understanding our terms. I knew I’d need to accept the art—no matter what form it came in—and appreciate it on some level, regardless of how appropriately it was, or wasn’t, placed.
Our son is now almost nine years old, and he is still very much into art. God has blessed him with some extremely appropriate opportunities to display his works. To me it’s a sign of God’s faithfulness to us, and to our son, as we let him work out his struggles through the use of art. As he’s grown and is now able to understand life a little more, he’s been able to control his “outbursts” of art to appropriate places like his notepads and his sketchbooks. As a reward (or maybe I was just lacking a little sanity that day!), we bought him several packs of Sharpies so that he now has almost every color to create with. We’ve only had a few small “creative differences” with him. In our home, autism is art appreciation—appreciation of the art he makes, which I believe is an outpouring of the art that God Himself placed into our son.
Rebekah is married to her best friend, Tim, and is a homeschooling mother to their 3 children, one of whom has an autism spectrum disorder. She understands the demands of school, schedules, therapies, activities, and daily life. She is on a journey to enjoy life outside her own box – discovering the beauty that is just outside her comfort zone, and shares that journey on her blog at rebekahmhallberg.com. She and her family live in Pennsylvania.
Photo credit: Becky Hallberg
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