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Communicating With Autism-how Art And Craft Helps
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Communicating With Autism-how Art And Craft Helps

Everyone who has ever had trouble expressing just the right thing at just the right time knows from experience the challange communication can pose. Many couples are on the brink of seperation or divorce because they find communication with eachother either too difficult, or it doesn't exist at all. Communication between parents and children is notoriously difficult as well. A conversation like this probably happens every day with your kids:

Parent: "How was your day at school?

Child: "Fine."

Parent: "Did anything interesting happen?"

Child: "No..."

As the conversation drags on, you begin to realize that your child only seems to have the abylity to answer in one word sentences. That's actually pretty normal though; at one time or another, we probably had several conversations where we answered questions in the same way. But what if even a simple conversation like the one above was a challange? What if you struggled to express what you wanted, needed, felt, or thought, or sometimes couldn't express what you need at all?

That's the struggle that people with Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, and similar PDD's face every second of every day.

It's like being trapped in a maze with no exit. No matter how many times you try to get out you find yourself walking down the same paths every day, with the same dead ends. The worst part is, as trapped as the person in the maze feels, his loved ones feel trapped outside the maze, trying to find a way in. All they want is to be close to eachother, but there are these walls keeping them apart.

These disorders that trap a person inside their own mind make communication difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

Scientific studies, as well as scores of personal experiences have shown the benefits of art and craft have on people living with Autism. While people with Autism, and similar disorders may find it a real challange to communicate verbally, they often have enhanced spacial or visual aptitudes. The things that they notice, and stand out to them can serve as a basis for communication. What a person thinks, feels, and values often come across in their art.

Drawing, painting, collecting, and other art and craft projects allow people to communicate without words. If you've spent enough time with a good friend, you can probably tell by a single look what he's thinking or feeling. You've done enough things together, and share enough common interests you may feel like you can almost read his thoughts.

The Autistic friends and relatives I have each talk to me through subjects that they are comfortable and familiar with. We know enough about eachothers craft or hobby that we can communicate through the craft:

  • Pokemon Card Collecting With one of my friends, who has Autism, we talk through Pokemon. He really enjoys collecting Pokemon Cards, as did I when I was his age. If I want to let him know how excited or bored I am, I tell him in a way he can relate to. If I'm really excited, I talk about how it's like I felt when I opened a booster pack and found Charizard, (a super rare card.) If something isn't too exciting, or was expected, I talk about finding a Machamp in the fighting type starter pack, (it always happens.) Because we share a common interest in card collecting; we can talk for a long time, about a number of different topics and feelings that would go right over the head of someone not involved in that craft.
  • Technology Talking about technology works great with one of my friends, who has Aspergers Syndrome. He really loves computers, videogames, robots, and programming. Usually, he'll start off asking me questions that go way over my head, (sometimes, he'll ask me the same question for weeks each time I see him, but after I tell him I don't know much about it, but that it sounds really interesting. Then I ask him a technology question that's more my level of understanding.) What we talked about for the last few weeks was a thing called Arduino, which Wikipedia defines as, "an open-source single-board microcontroller, descendant of the open-source Wiring platform, designed to make the process of using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible." Basically, it's a thing that you can use to program and control anything from a lightbulb, to a robot, to your entire house! He likes that he can 'tell' the robot what to do, and it does exactly what he wants. For him it's easier to relate to technology than people, but people who share his interests in crafting robots, and programming are easier to relate to and communicate with as well.
  • Repair and Rhyming My uncle, who also has Asperger's Syndrome, loves to go to thrift shops and pick things up. Most of the time, he has no real purpose for the things that he gets, he just brings them home, and puts them in his room, or the shop, or the storage area, etc...until most all of them are full of things. He collects them, but it gets really bad; (have you ever seen the show 'Help, I'm a Horder'?) When I have to help him get rid of some things, I let him do all the work, and try to dignify him as much as possible. Having a positive attitude, I say things like, "I can see why that appealed to you", or "It would be cool if we could fix this", etc... If he starts getting too stressed about throwing things away, we start looking for things to keep. Organizing things into piles that we will use for future projects or things that he wants to repair gives him more of a sense of responsibility and control, instead of always being told 'just how' something should be done 'the right way'. Additionally, many people who have Asperger's like words, and have quite a large vocabulary. So I play a game that my uncle really likes, in which, you match words to animals. (He wouldn't hurt a fly, but he likes to match words where the first word is some negative action, and the second word starts the same as the first. For example: Arrest an Alligator, Beat a Bear, Kick a Kitty, Punch a Puppy, etc...) When we combine our hobby of repairing things, and play a game that we're both good at, we seem to be able to talk about important things. We really get a chance to communicate, and he gets to pour out his heart, as to what's on his mind, what bugs him, what he needs, and how he feels.

In each of the above instances, whenever we started a conversation, it was just the formalities-no real communication. It takes time for anyone to feel comfortable enough to share their feelings, so don't rush them. If it's possible, do more than just talk about a mutually shared interest, whether it's in an art, craft, hobby, etc. If you can, actually roll up your sleeves, and join them the next time they do their hobby. That will only increase the trust in you, and make it easier for you to understand what they are really feeling and vice-a-versa.

Autism can feel like a maze that you can't escape from, but with determination, consistent patience, and unshakable love, the walls can come down. Meaningful communication is something that everyone needs and deserves. Find out what interests them, and start doing art and craft projects together, the sooner the better. Until we find out what is causing Autism, Asperger's, and other PDD's, we'll just have to do our best to be there for eachother.

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