Sparking Creativity in My Child With Autism

Photo: agsandrew / iStock
My son, who has Asperger’s, prefers to spend most of his time at home alone in his bedroom playing video games. He plays games that allow for virtual interaction with other players, but it’s always a challenge to get out of his room, and he hardly wants to leave the house after he gets home from school.

When the Pokémon Go fervor captured the minds of a vast number of gamers this summer, my son tagged along with me tagging along with a coworker to experience what the hoopla was all about. It got him out of the house, and he met a bunch of strangers playing the game in the process. The social aspect of the game was fairly stimulating for him, but the game itself didn’t seem to inspire much creativity.

My son is a very imaginative person when he puts his mind to it and when given a reason to focus on an artistic process with a tangible end result.

There are some ideas we’ve been trying recently to draw out his imagination and creative expression.

Cooking up a storm

One of my son’s favorite subjects in school last year was a life skills class. He was very excited about the cooking lessons the class afforded. Maybe firing up the stove had something to do with it, we joked, but I think it was engaging in a tactile and practical endeavor that involves one of his favorite things: Food!

We’ve been trying to spice up our meal preparations and draw him into the process by incorporating different flavors and textures. This summer we prepared some meals with edible flowers that he found inspiring, and we are always trying to cook using seasonal produce, coaxing him to the farmers’ market to get him to start thinking about food production and sustainability.

Chalking it up

We have a large driveway. It is a gigantic canvas. I bought chalk of many different colors and sizes and we invited kids in the neighborhood for a chalk party. The activity helped unleash Jack’s creativity in addition to helping him develop important social skills. Most of the parents got involved as well. It was fun for everyone involved. We decided to make it a monthly event.

Wallpapering it

We turned one of Jack’s walls into a huge whiteboard where he can get creative when the mood strikes him. It’s surprisingly easy and cheap to pull off. He doodles on it and creates amusing and highly creative drawings. He also uses it to make notes for himself, and there is a space reserved for us to leave notes and reminders for him. There’s something less threatening about leaving these notes for him when they exist alongside his creative expression. Before we installed the whiteboard, we covered his walls with butcher paper to serve as a canvas for his creative output.

Instagram to print

Like most teenagers, my boy is getting into taking selfies and posting them on Instagram. I’ve been trying to get him into looking at the world beyond the narcissistic self-absorption that social media often sustains. I’ll take him out to use his smartphone camera to capture more artful images of the world around him. At the end of this summer we sifted through his images and selected a few of the best and made a collage for his room. We even found an online printing service that created a printed photo book directly from his Instagram account.

Picasso has nothing on this!

We are obviously very passionate about the art world. I never grew up knowing about art as a kid as I lived in a small rural town in Idaho. It would take moving to a bigger city to get my culture on. I am back in Idaho now after many years and I want my son to have a deeper appreciation of art history. We set aside a day every month to learn a little about famous artists and then we create our masterpieces in the spirit of that particular artist. We’ve made abstract drip paintings in the vein of Jackson Pollock, shadowboxes containing objects from the natural world channeling Joseph Cornell, and Matisse-like cutout works.

Most recently Jack’s been getting into freestyle sculptures that spring from his own creative impulse and it’s imaginative and seasonally appropriate!

Photo: Jack's work/Clinton Wilson

All of these activities inspire creativity not only in my son, but the entire family. They have become invaluable family team-building events that draw us all closer.
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About the Author

“Every individual on this earth deserves to be treated with compassion, understanding, and the right to keep their dignity intact. This can be difficult to honor at times when someone loses control of their behavior, but that’s where Rational Detachment and not taking it personally really kicks in. What has helped me be able to do this well goes back to the first day I was introduced to Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training. I was a participant before becoming a Certified Instructor (and before working for CPI), and over the years I have had so many opportunities to use what I learned way back then. Today, I live the skills automatically. It’s an honor to have been given those skills to live the philosophy of treating others the way I want to be treated.”