Autism Awareness Month, Day 6: Imagination and Humor


Use your imagination, or you can borrow mine. ~H.M. Murdock, “The A-Team”

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. ~Willy Wonka, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

Who are you, and why are you calling me strange?

I’m not sure where the myth comes from that all Aspies are dry, literal creatures with little imagination. I’ve certainly known a few who are as dry and literal as Shredded Wheat, but there are numerous exceptions. Without Aspie or Aspie-like traits, the world would have never known Andy Warhol or Roald Dahl, Andy Kaufman or Rowan Atkinson, Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett. I can’t say for certain that any of these talented folks had AS at all. Their art, and their characters, are a mirror for Aspies.

There’s an idea I’ve been kicking around for a few years now that there are two subsets of Aspies. You have the engineer/mathematician types who love analysis, hard facts, and blisteringly long equations on blackboards. These are the left-brain thinkers whom most envision when you say the word “Asperger’s.” Then, there are the right-brain, artistic, abstract types who often seem lost in their painting or character work. They might be just as absent-minded and introspective as the scientists, but they are artists who live to create and explore. Among the many creative geniuses believed or known to have had AS:

Michael Palin (actor/comedian, member of Monty Python)

Dan Aykroyd (actor, “Ghostbusters,” “The Blues Brothers”)

Jane Austen (famed British writer)

Sir Alfred Hitchcock (filmmaker, director)

Charles Schulz (cartoonist, creator of “Peanuts”)

Jim Henson (puppeteer, creator of The Muppets)

George Orwell (author, “1984,” “Animal Farm”)

Satoshi Tajiri (video game designer, creator of Pokemon)

This is only a short list, of course, and historians now speculate that titans from Michelangelo to Mozart may have been on the spectrum. We will never know for sure. The point is that autism does not preclude creativity; it gives back to the world a splendid kind of creative vision.

Imaginary friend? Naw, he's real.

My experience growing up was one of boundless creativity. From the time I could hold a pencil or crayon, I wrote stories and drew pictures. One of the AS moms I know has a son who does the same thing. Because so many AS kids struggle with the verbal world, they express through pictures. Dr. Grandin explains this phenomenon in her books: while she is often unable to describe a design to a potential buyer, she is able to draw it in exquisite detail. I never really struggled with the verbal part of things (in fact, I was one of the rare Aspies who loved puns and hyperbole), but I also drew and painted.

Sadly, in this cubicle-oriented world of ours, arts programs are often the first to face cuts in schools. I’d argue that the arts, whether visual arts or performing arts, are just as essential as math or science for AS students. Think of how many lonely, marginalized kids draw in their notebooks or write stories. Art is an outlet for the soul. You won’t find the same kids doing math equations or writing expository essays about Hawthorne for fun. They’ll forget the majority of what they learn in school, but trust me, they will remember the good art and drama teachers.

AS? Why, soitenly!

As for this notion that Aspies have no sense of humor, I’m not sure where that got started, but it’s not true. I have known a few who never seem to laugh, who seem as dour and humorless as Adrian Monk. This doesn’t mean they have no sense of humor. The things most NTs would never laugh at may amuse and delight Aspies.

I’m also intrigued by how many Aspie-type characters in films and TV shows have appeared over the years. Whether it’s Rowan Atkinson’s near-silent Mr. Bean or the two dunderheads from “Dumb and Dumber,” audiences love characters who either don’t fit in or have their own kind of eccentric logic. I also have a hunch many NTs wish they could act like Aspies and get away with it sometimes.

Personally I like many different kinds of humor. I adore puns and double meanings, slapstick, mistaken identity farces. I’ve been known to laugh at everything from The Three Stooges to obscure French comedies. Laughter is one of the things that keeps us young. (If I know nothing else about AS, it’s that so many Aspies have a special appreciation for the absurd. We are nothing else if not alluringly absurd.)

Godzilla has a sense of humor

My advice to parents with creatively inclined Aspie kids with big imaginations:

1) Encourage imagination. Remember that airplanes and mp3 players were once thought of as the stuff of science fiction. Today’s dreamer may be tomorrow’s inventor or bestselling author.

2) Find an outlet for creativity with other kids. Drama and art clubs or performing troupes are a great way for Aspie kids to meet like-minded friends and learn healthy social skills. They’ll hardly notice they’re socializing.

3) Don’t try and force a square peg into a round hole. Not every student will show interest in math or history, and that’s OK. (Remember that Albert Einstein was once called hopeless by a math teacher.)

4) Kids may do “weird” stuff. As long as it’s healthy and appropriate, try to take it all with a grain of salt. All kids experiment and Aspie kids are no different.

5) Watch different kinds of funny movies together. Discuss why the humor works or doesn’t work. (Comedies are also a gentle, non-threatening way to discuss people’s motivations, since so much of the humor comes from misunderstandings.)

6) Realize that Aspie kids may be slightly ahead of or behind the curve for kids their own age (for example, your 12-year-old may still have invisible friends, or your 7-year-old may develop an interest in Shakespeare.)

7) Find a creative mentor or role model for your child. Point out the list of famous people with AS and talk about their contributions. Emphasize that AS is not a handicap; it’s a different set of wiring.

8) Love your child for who he/she is…and display their creative work proudly at home!

Enjoyed this post? Be sure to click ‘Like’ and stay tuned for more Autism Awareness posts this month. I appreciate all my readers!

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~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on April 7, 2011.

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