Art as insight into the autistic mind

Most parents of autistic children can remember the first time that there children “communicated” with them. Sometimes it is verbal, such as an unexpected – but highly hoped for – “Good night mommy.” Sometimes it is in an action, sometimes it is in writing.

The story Portraits of a silent artist give insight into autism talks about one autistic child’s use of art to communicate with the world and express what is going on in his mind:

Klar-Wolfond, whose 3-year-old son has been diagnosed with the condition, says many experts believe that autistic savants like Lerman are exhibiting inert talents, that their music or math skills are simply weird accidents of neurological wiring, bereft of reason or insights into their surroundings.

‘Some people see this as a quirk of biology’ she says, scanning Lerman’s soulful artwork.

‘They believe that people with autism lack a `theory of mind,’ which means they have a very limited capacity to understand human emotions, they have no capacity to understand thoughts outside their own, can’t read body language and are incapable of symbolic thought.’

Lerman’s work — with its intensely emotive faces — belies this belief, Klar-Wolfond says.

‘It shows that there’s a lot going on, and that we have to rethink the way we interact with people with autism.’

One of the most recurring descriptions of autism is that autistic people lack a “theory of mind,” that they have a limited understanding of the emotions of NT people and that they have no ability to understand thoughts outside their own.

I think, sometimes, that we who are NT have a serious lack of a theory of mind of the autistic. We project our understanding and pre-conceptions of how the mind should function on autistics, and when we don’t see those manifested we assume that there is nothing, or very little, going on in those minds.

I don’t think we could be more wrong.

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