Thinking about creativity and autism, two particular experiences common to autism and neurodiversity stand out: visual learning and special interests. This is World Autism Acceptance Week, following closely on Neurodiversity Celebration Week, an opportunity to explore these themes.
Why visual learning? I’ve seen one or two people share how they and many other neurodivergent people learn better visually – through infographics, diagrams, motifs and pictures. This can be partly connected to issues with dyslexia and language, written or spoken alike. Creativity and the visual arts open up new ways of presenting, expressing and absorbing ideas or information. This can be helpful in education and training – picture dictionaries can be great for learning another language – but also in everyday life. It’s also a way to explore mental health issues amd use images to help understand how and why you feel as you do. As part of my art for wellbeing work, I sometimes experiment with “art as tool”, art that expresses and works through thoughts and feelings. One example is painting colourful umbrellas, then writing on them the positives that shelter you from the negative issues in life, just as umbrellas shelter us from the elements. A visual – and maybe more memorable – way of focusing on how to enhance life.
Then there are special interests. Many neurodiverse people have special interests which can become all-consuming, even obsessive. But obsession doesn’t have to be a negative word. Special interests can give real purpose to life. They might be sports, an animal species or a music style. Art and craft can become special interests too, and very positive ones. They have such endless possibilities, so many styles and media to explore. As productive and creative interests, they can enable people to express how they experience the world around them, which is useful if people with autism have communication issues. Moreover, as many neurodivergent people have a very intense sensory experience of life, this can greatly enhance their creativity.
It was once thought that only around 1 or 2% of the population had autism, but it’s now believed that the real figure is far higher. Recently a succession of high-profile comedians and actors have revealed that they are neurodiverse. The more common we know autism to be, the less likely we are to generalize about it, which is very positive. The more people are known to be neurodiverse, the more we can recognize the sheer individuality within that diagnosis. So just like anyone, some people with autism will thrive on creativity. Some will not. Multi-sensory stimuli can foster creativity and wellbeing in anyone, neurodiverse or not, so experimenting with tactile art, or combining art with music, can open up new possibilities – on and off the spectrum.
It would be great if you have any thoughts or experiences to share in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002? Thank you.