The Colors of Autism


The creative minds of autistic people experience the world in shapes, colors, and sounds that do not always make sense.  While the words may get jumbled up, the colors do not.  The colors are an expression of feelings and vibrations that an autistic person senses on an intuitive level deep within their being.  While the word “angry” might not mean anything to them, the color red may represent a feeling they know well, but cannot express in words.

My world was enriched by my son, Mikey, who brought more color into my life than any artist’s palette could create.  Mikey experienced the world in living color, and he was drawn to anything visually colorful.  He could feel emotions represented in colors, and he expressed his feelings through his use of color in his artwork.  Blue was his very favorite color; royal blue.  Blue symbolizes spirituality, youth, truth, and peace, and it’s linked to intellect and consciousness.  That pretty well sums up Mikey.  Although he didn’t know what the color blue represented; it represented him.  In fact, blue represented Mikey far better than his label of “autism” did.

I can’t picture Mikey in the summertime without seeing a tie-dyed shirt.  Four years after his death, I can’t look at a tie-dyed shirt without picturing Mikey.  Mikey wore all the colors of the rainbow proudly.  He only wore tans and beiges because they blended in and camouflaged him when he desired to be inconspicuous.  But nine days out of ten, he would grab the most colorful t-shirt out of his closet to wear around the house.  He had his favorites, which I still sleep in:  orange, gold, green, and blue.  The colors shaped his mood, along with the colorful clay he used for modeling objects and the colorful glazes he put on pottery.

One of the greatest gifts to give an autistic child is a kaleidoscope.  It has everything they love: colors, motion, and light.  And it doesn’t require batteries; just a simple twist of the hand and it offers a constantly changing work of art.  Art in motion.  A unique and beautiful version of the wheel.

If you know a child with autism, instead of filling their Easter basket with pastel plastic toys, how about a kaleidoscope instead?  Or how about skipping the pastel eggs in favor of the bright primary colors, or neon colored plastic eggs?  They have plastic eggs in all manners of color combinations nowadays.  Instead of filling the eggs with candy, fill them with different blocks of colorful Sculpey Clay.  It will give their creative minds hours of enjoyment, instead of giving their bodies hyper-active responses to sugar.

And let them dye eggs any way they want them.  Mikey used to leave eggs sitting in dye cups overnight, because he wanted them as dark and richly colored as possible.  Egg dying was one of Mikey’s favorite holiday traditions.  It’s a tradition that autistic kids can enjoy just as much – or more- than other kids.  Remember when you are celebrating holidays, they should be included in the celebrating, which means some of the usual traditions may need modified or skipped altogether.  But it’s their holiday, too.   Wishing everyone a very colorful and wonderful Easter!


Christmases Past

As always, I’m breathing a little sigh of relief now that Christmas Day has passed.  Spending the day with my daughter always keeps me afloat, but the sadness always comes in the waning hours after presents have been unwrapped, food has been stored away, cheerful goodbyes have been said, and I’m all alone with my thoughts.

Staring blankly at the twinkling lights of my tree, I’m suddenly swept back into Christmases past.  I see little Mikey’s face lit up with excitement over a new remote control car.  I see Susie’s tussled blonde locks cascading over a new pink nightgown, hunkered down with her new Barbie house which she has carefully set up under the tree, now barren of wrapped presents. Both kids keeping an eye on the new Disney video that Santa brought, while playing with their new toys.  And me, collapsed on the couch after an all-night assembling episode kept me from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep before Susie scampered out of her bed to wake Mikey and the rest of us at 4 a.m.

“Mikey!  Santa Claus came!”  Susie would rouse her little brother, and both kids would come bounding down the stairs in jubilation.  Mike and I would mumble a garbled agreement over who was going to make the coffee or get the camera.

I remember sitting on the couch at the end of Christmas day and feeling contented and joyful and tired.  And worried.  Always worried about the future.  Always wishing Christmas vacation could go on forever and Mikey didn’t have to go back to school. I hated Mikey going back to school more than Mikey hated it himself.  The teasing kids, the thoughtless remarks from some of the teachers, the stress of wondering if Mikey was actually learning the material he was supposed to be learning for his age.  Continually worrying about the future, which I believed would stretch out before me with years and years of Christmases with Mikey.

I go back to those Christmases past in my mind, and I wish I could tell that young mother to stop worrying and just enjoy living in that joyful moment.  And I’m struck by how death teaches us how to really live.