Autistic Voices on Creativity

AANE Autistic Community Members

We asked Autistic creators about the role creativity played in their lives or to tell us something about their creative process. Here’s what they shared.

Olivia August Nied

In many ways, my creativity and my autism are linked and work in tandem with one another. I’m a musician and songwriter primarily, and the first I remember realizing I could put sounds together and write lyrics was when my parents were giving me a bath. I must have been maybe four at the latest, I had this plastic cup and I was pouring water in and out of it and watching it in a visual stimming kind of way and I started humming a melody that my parents shortly after called my “water song.” It was then that I realized I could get people to listen more to what I had to say, if I put it in a poem or a song. Since that time, I haven’t stopped songwriting, because I think to do so would feel like stopping breathing (not to be too dramatic). I found a language that worked for me to communicate to the people around me. Creativity is essential to my existence.

David and Whitney

David: When I was first diagnosed, it was a bit like having all the air sucked out of the room. I was left gasping. I reached out for people who understood what I was going through at the AANE writers workshop. I didn’t expect much. But I got more than I bargained for. I shared a piece I had written about autistic meltdowns. It was my attempt to grasp their meaning. Immediately Whitney, a woman in her forties, responded to it. “Is there more? This is exactly what I need to translate the autistic experience to parents of newly diagnosed kids.” There was no more, but I said I would be happy to write more with her help. That was the start, as they say, “of a beautiful friendship.”

Whitney: I remember being floored by David’s work and wondering where it had been all these years…I think I mentioned something along the lines of “If I could show something like this to parents it would be worth more than all the words I can come up with.” David works in pictures, which is a new concept for me. Well, a few weeks later, he emails me about the possibility of working together. I’d never had a writing partner before, but David’s confidence and his commitment to this revolutionary way of teaching interested me. What I’m trying to say was it was like a rockstar had just asked me to collaborate with them on a creative project. A rockstar with an English accent.

How could l say anything but, “When do we start?”

David: Today, several months later, we have finished the manuscript of a completely original children’s picture book for adults. It has been read by a world renowned expert on parenting an autistic child. He has agreed to write an introduction. We are starting the search for a publishing house. From a state of shock and solitude, creativity has helped me to form what I hope will be a lifelong, productive collaboration.

Whitney: I was diagnosed several years before David, so, as we were working together, I was able to share the tips and tricks that helped me in the early years—plus (I hope) normalize some of the things he was going through. David and I are about 40 years apart, so he has been able to offer the wealth of having distilled a historical perspective that stretches beyond anything I’m currently capable of. All of this has influenced our creativity—it’s like when one of us is frustrated or maybe wants to give up, the other comes in with a generous dose of empathy coupled with, “Well, from my perspective this is a totally surmountable problem and here’s what we could do. What do you think?” Sometimes we’ll send each other examples of other media to illustrate and clarify what we mean—music, video, visual arts and sculpture. I’ve never had this kind of long-term collaboration before, where you can bring your whole self to the table and not have to mask that you have a life going on off the page. I imagine this might be what it’s like for people who shoot a TV series, or bands who stay together for decades and grow to call each other family.

AANE Artist Collaborative

Sheila Benedis

Tree Apparel
Collage and Poem (2022)
Mixed papers, ink, writing; 13.5 x 24 in.

Artist’s Note: The armature of the tree in winter is the bones of my sculpture. I’m trying to capture the tree’s true essence in my art. The tree has a powerful voice, a symbol of my identity as an artist. My inner voice speaks. It celebrates my life’s work.

Joshua Berins

Left: Pair of Shell Earrings
Middle: A Fine Silver Gingko Leaf with a Small Glass Cabochon
Right: Pair of Blue Pattern Glass Earrings
All available

Artist’s Note: I am inspired to create my jewelry from objects in Nature.  I make Fine Silver Leaf Pendants and Earrings using real leaves as templates and Shell jewelry from molds I made from real shells. I use Precious Metal Silver Clay for my jewelry, which was invented in Japan. It was originally made from Recycled Silver from Photo processing.  I also make Dichroic Glass jewels and cabochons which I combine with the Silver.  My website has more information on my art process and shows many more of my unique pieces.

Yvonne Christian

Sunset Over the Ocean at Key West

Acrylic on canvas

Artist’s Note: CLICK HERE to watch the short video I made about Creativity

Ed Freniere

South Fork, Eel River, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
Camera: Toyo 45All
Lens: Schneider Symmar-S 150 mm
Film: Ilford Delta 100 4×5
Exposure: unknown
© Copyright Ed Freniere 2022. All rights reserved.

Artist’s Note: As a photographer making mostly landscapes and cityscapes, for me creativity is about finding a location and choosing a perspective that enables me to convey my vision of the scene. I can control viewpoint, angle, composition and lens field of view to accomplish this. I can’t control lighting, but I can choose time of day and try to plan for certain weather conditions that make the image more effective. The other half of creating a photographic image is processing. As primarily a black-and-white film photographer, this means processing the film and printing the negative using traditional darkroom techniques. I also shoot some digital photographs, and for them, processing means taking a RAW image out of the camera and processing in Photoshop or Lightroom to craft the image I am seeking.

Danielle Gallieti

Spinning on Ice
Dance/Skate, ice, paint

Galactic Center
Musical composition
(*Sagittarius A*, abbreviated Sgr A* is the supermassive black hole at the Galactic Center of the Milky Way.)


Artist’s Note: “…my art practice is a way for me to work through and process my thoughts feelings experiences associations and emotions. It is for no one but myself. Just like my existence is for no one but myself.”

Click HERE to visit my website for Videos, Musical Compositions, Paintings, Installations, and more.

G. Edward Hudson

Barn at Canterbury Center
Watercolor and ink

Artist’s Note: I love to experiment with line and texture, colors and light in my paintings, and utilize a number of different paint mediums. I’m also fascinated by lines and patterns – enjoying and teaching the art of Zentangle. I’m often to be found working with my hands – as a jeweler, a builder of wooden ships, a musical performer – or repairer – of unusual or historical musical instruments. Living in a remote area – small towns with nature close by – certainly informs and inspires my work.

Lyman Johansen

Klamath Lake
Oil on canvas
Prints available

Artist’s Note: I was pretty young when I started making art about the intense things the grownups were talking about: World War II and the forest fires that were burning down the mountains where we lived in Oregon.

I already had my own ideas of what I wanted to learn or create. For instance at school they were handing out band instruments like trumpets, flutes and clarinets. But I wanted to learn to play the violin like my Mom. I learned many other instruments too so I could make my own music.

Most of the time when I’m making art I’m trying to capture an experience or a sight that I’ve seen. A moment that will never come again. The way the light or shadows are, the colors. The way it feels. To freeze the moment in time so I can remember it. Sometimes I’ve had a dream and I’m trying to capture that. For a long time now I’ve been making art about the earth, the planet, and how it is so special and fragile and that it may be destroyed. I hope my art will make people stop and look and care.

Link to my Webpage

Jamie Maxfield

Gorilla, Franklin Park Zoo (2014)
Graphite pencil, framed; 14 x 11 in.

Artist’s Note: I’ve been drawing and sketching for as long as I can remember.
Pencil and graphite are my medium of choice.
I prefer to sketch from life, people and animals.
I particularly enjoy doing commissions: portraits of people, animals and special places.

Click here to visit my website

Jen Mazer

Graphite pencil on paper

Artist Note: I have been sketching since grade school but didn’t know I was an artist until oil painting in college. I am an abstract artist. I would like to do more photography and am learning watercolor, graphite, and pen and ink.

Wanda Metcalf

Digital photo art

Artist’s Note: Creativity Happens

See some of my older art HERE.

Listen to some of my popular music songs HERE.

Andrew Novis

Left: Lake Along the Florida Trail, Acrylic on canvas
Right: Walking through a Chinese Garden, Diptych; Acrylic on canvas

Artist’s Note: Being an “Aspie” artist, I tend to create and conceive my imagery through the left brain, focusing on detail, order, separation and purity of color (very little mixing), and clearly defined lines. This reflects my general need for simplicity, clarity and structure in real life.”

CLICK HERE to visit my AANE Artist Collaborative webpage to see more art.

Rachel Olin

Left: Cusco, Watercolor and Goache on Paper
Right: Kitten, New media art (Procreate on iPad)

Artist’s Note: I started making art as soon as I could pick up a crayon. From there I moved on to painting (on the iPad and on paper) and never looked back. My subject material has generally been animals, plants and nature, but I have started working with other subjects to please a wider variety of audiences.

Anastasia O’Melveny

Cats on the Bed
Watercolor on hot pressed paper

Artist’s Note: Years ago, I had a bad accident. Lying in bed for weeks, barely able to move, I was not sure what direction my life would or could take. Then an Artist friend brought over some watercolors and paper, propped everything up just so, and told me: You can do this!

I’d made art as a child, but it had been a really long time, and yet somehow, despite all my discomfort and limitations, I painted a really good painting. I couldn’t believe it.

That was when I realized that at the center of who I was, there was an artist. That even when the chips were down, I had something to offer. I’ve kind of focused on art ever since.

I used to struggle with speaking, so I learned to write. Now, every piece of art that I make has what I call The Back Story. It tells how I happened to make the piece – what it means to me. If someone buys the piece, the story comes with it. Sometimes it’s pasted to the back of the painting, sometimes they get an entire book, depending on how much there was to say. Lately, sounds and music have been attached too.

You can visit my website by clicking HERE.

Brian Rusconi

Magnificent Design
Acrylic; 24 x 14 in.

Artist’s Note: I use art to communicate with others. Art allows me to focus on calm and soothing thoughts.

Click here to visit my website.  

John M. Williams

Left: Camping on the Beach, Mixed paper collage; 11 x 14 in., Available
Right: Yellow Sunrise, Mixed paper collage; 11 x 14 in, Available

Artist’s Note: While I’m creating a piece, I get caught up in the act of creation, and the piece sort of creates itself – sometimes leading to a different result than originally planned. It makes me feel composed and in control so I can better manage my anxiety. At the end, I am proud of my work and enjoy showing it to people.
I like to think my art is an inspiration to other autistic people and their families, as well as to other artists. My art can be used for educational purposes, especially the historical pieces. I sometimes speak to student groups using my art as a teaching tool. I hope to leave a legacy through my art.

Here’s a LINK to a short video about my life and work.
Here’s a LINK to a longer video about my art and about autism.
Visit my website:  John M Williams Fine Art to see more art.

All of the work presented on this page is protected by copyright and has been reproduced with permission from the author or artist. Any other reproduction without the expressed permission of the author or artist indicated is strictly prohibited.

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