About the Author
Brenda Dater, MSW, MPH, is the executive director at AANE and the author of Parenting Without Panic. Brenda is a mom of three, and her eldest is an Autistic transgender woman. Brenda has facilitated parent support groups for over 20 years and thoroughly enjoys creating an environment where parents can find the support, information, and the community they need.
I’d like to start by dispelling the myth that Autistic people are not creative. Autistic people are often stereotyped as mainly linear and literal thinkers who prefer to focus on facts. But that myth doesn’t reflect the incredible creativity that I’ve seen expressed within the Autistic community.
AANE Artist Collaborative
I’m so thrilled that the AANE Artist Collaborative is a thriving community where members can pursue their creative passions. When they set up their art gallery in the AANE office, I was immediately drawn to a charcoal drawing titled, Meditation, by Brian Rusconi.* I kept walking back to look at it. I saw thoughtfulness, strength, wisdom, pain, and fortitude. To me, the piece highlighted the complexity and variety of experiences and emotions we all go through. I realized I always wanted to be able to see this work of art and bought the drawing.
Keeping curiosity and creativity alive
When I was in elementary school. I remember my art teacher telling me I wasn’t creative. She said that I took directions too literally. I enjoyed order and structure and could feel anxious if I didn’t know what was expected. Art class stressed me out because my brain didn’t feel comfortable with assignments that were too open-ended or didn’t have a clear outcome. Like many parents of Autistic children, I recognize certain Autistic traits and experiences that feel wholly familiar to my own experience too.
For years, that one remark made me feel like I was missing some special skill or way of thinking that other, more creative people, had. I assumed that her words were fact, and I was not a creative person. It wasn’t until I was in college, and joined an improv troupe that performed around the world, that I was able to shake that unfair characterization. All these years later, I still don’t think I have a particular talent for painting or drawing. But I’ve also learned that creativity comes in all kinds of forms. Now I enjoy a variety of creative activities: singing, photography, and dancing. I may not be great at all of them, but they bring me a tremendous amount of joy.
Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes
At AANE, in addition to illustrators, painters, and sculptors, we have jewelry designers, creative writers, knitters, actors, photographers, costume designers, musicians, songwriters, dancers, and more. I’ve seen creativity sprout in the most unexpected places too. Like the Autistic adult who thought creatively about how to express the impact of our work and transformed a static word cloud into a moving video that’s been viewed thousands of times. Or my Autistic daughter who started a neighborhood newspaper with friends and distributed the stories and pictures on our block. Creativity does not only come through limited categories of expression.
Making Space for Creativity
If you are Autistic, I hope that you have the time to explore what creative pursuits make you feel whole. Spending time doing creative activities can lower your stress level, boost your self-confidence, connect you to a community, and open up new perspectives. If you can set aside any concern about, “doing it right,” you can enjoy experimenting and learning as you go.
And if you are not Autistic, I hope you will make time and space for your Autistic loved one (or client) to explore what types of creative expressions are meaningful and fun for them. It’s so helpful to offer opportunities to explore what type of creative expression brings joy and a sense of fulfillment.
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