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Is She Artistic or Autistic?

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Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

If I had a nickel for every time someone stopped me in the grocery store to ask, “Is she artistic?” I would be a rich woman! In years past, people often confused the pronunciation of “autistic” with “artistic”. For many years, this was frustrating—but over time, my reactions changed.

Is She Artistic or Autistic?

My daughter, Lauren, is a member of the group of young adults who grew up on the evolving autism spectrum. For Lauren, a clear diagnosis eluded all of the professionals for many years. Over time, the spectrum expanded and Lauren landed as an "artist in residence".

Lauren's "artistic abilities" are quite limited in traditional terms. Her fine motor skills are weak and she doesn't "Love" to paint, draw or work with clay. She does enjoy sitting at a table and being part of a group participating in craft activities.

Despite these limitations, Lauren helps to paint the landscape every day with her own special palette.... her heart. With the stroke of a painter's brush, Lauren brightens everyone's day. She says "hello" and shakes hands with...the rich, poor, old, young, disabled and able-bodied.

She puts a smile on the face of the clerk in the grocery story, the bus driver and the elderly man sitting alone on a park bench. She is sensitive to the baby who is crying and the person wearing a band aid.

Her obsessive compulsive qualities add a facetious and often humorous side to her approach to life. She's not quite ready for a comedy club...but she is funny to watch as she methodically puts her dishes away in the exact same spot, drinks every drop of her drink and recycles every bottle and can.

Lauren's room is always clean, neat and orderly. On one occasion her cousin left a wet bathing suit on Lauren's bed. Later, everyone was looking for the missing bathing suit. Alas, it was found. Lauren put the wet bathing suit "away" in the clothes hamper!

Culinary arts are Lauren's specialty. Lauren loves to eat and she can make her Mom or a staffer feel like Julia Child...with just one word, "Delicious"! She loves to help out with cooking and has been found up during the night eating her lunch packed for the next day.

The stage takes the performing arts to new heights. Lauren has performed in sign language plays and dance recitals. She has more fun on stage than any star on Broadway. Lauren doesn't know that the way to Carnegie Hall is "practice, practice", but videotaped performances help her to relive the experience over and over.

The visual arts offer an opportunity for Lauren to have her photograph taken and to say "cheese". She spends hours looking through her boxes of photographs, even the ones friends and family members wish would be thrown away.

Dark days can be filled with behavior issues, seizures, or acting out (taking her clothes off in public places, pulling hair and or tearing a shirt or necklace off someone). But, Lauren's resilience teaches us patience....as she springs back the next day with the grace of an Olympic diver.

Much like the back side of a beautiful needlepoint, Lauren is part of the fabric of the human family. Her seizures, flapping, moans, unsteady gait, and tremors are often tangled together. But, on the front side of the needlepoint is a beautiful face, eyes bluer than a robin's egg, and the sweetest smile.

Her Dad is an architect. With the skill of a sculptor, Lauren has shaped his commitment to the Americans with Disabilities Act and his efforts to make workplaces accessible to people with disabilities. She has taught him much about tolerance of people with differences.

I am a pediatric nurse practitioner and nursing educator. With the precision of an artist arranging the pieces of a mosaic, Lauren has guided the pieces of my life into a new pattern of giving. I became a better, more caring nurse and educator as well as an advocate for nurses with disabilities. I founded a nonprofit organization for nurses with disabilities and wrote three books. I also blog about Lauren and life as an adult living in supported living at "Autism parenting is an Olympic event" Autism parenting is an Olympic event!!!

With the precision of an artisan bricklayer, Lauren has helped to build our commitment to each other, to her, and others within the disability community. Our marriage is solid---built on a strong foundation of love, grace, and humor.

Now after, 29 years, if someone asks me if Lauren is "artistic", I proudly say, "Yes she is!" And, today's your lucky day. You just won a free ticket to one of her shows.........

Forever nurse! Pediatrics is my love and passion. I am a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and have been practicing and teaching nursing for over 35 years. I am the founder of a nonprofit organization for nurses with disabilities, www.ExceptionalNurse.com, author of three books and numerous articles about nurses and nursing students with disabilities as well as other topics. In addition, I am an autism mom/warrior and dog lover!

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22 Comment(s)

ilikesharpthings

Specializes in Med-Surg ICU. Has 6 years experience.

What a lovely, beautifully-written tribute to your daughter, who sounds remarkable! She is fortunate to have parents who see her for who she is and recognize the many gifts she has to offer.

Donna Maheady

Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

Thanks so much! She is our joy!

Axgrinder

Specializes in Adult MICU/SICU.

So she IS an artist! She sounds lovely and amazing - and the world sounds like a far happier (and entertaining) place with Lauren in it! Hurray for us! You are a lucky, lucky woman Ms. Donna. :)

Hollybobs

Specializes in ICU. Has 5 years experience.

Oh my goodness that is lovely. You couldn't write that unless you shared some of those joyful, "love for life" qualities you describe in her, I reckon she may take after her mum a little! ":)

audreysmagic, RN

Specializes in Psych, Peds, Education, Infection Control. Has 15 years experience.

I wish there was a love button for this! Lauren sounds amazing, and for as many challenges as autism can provide, it's so wonderful to see a parent celebrating their autistic child instead of trying to get them to "pass for normal."

Donna Maheady

Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

I wish there was a love button for this! Lauren sounds amazing, and for as many challenges as autism can provide, it's so wonderful to see a parent celebrating their autistic child instead of trying to get them to "pass for normal."

Thanks so much!

Donna Maheady

Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

Oh my goodness that is lovely. You couldn't write that unless you shared some of those joyful, "love for life" qualities you describe in her, I reckon she may take after her mum a little! ":)

You are right! She does have many of my qualities!

Wonderfully said! Your personal experiance is invaluable as a practitioner. Your patients are very fortunate to have you caring for them. Your child is so blessed to have you as an advocate and a mom. Compassion and understanding can not be taught. Only life's experianes can do that. I'm the proud mom of a 23 yr old daughter who as a child at age 4 had seizures. I was told they were probably part of alennox Gastaux (? Spell) syndrome that would leave her progressively severely disabled. I refused to believe this diagnosis. She spent all of her elementary school yrs in special Ed. I insisted she would receive normal curriculum. Despite the side effects of her seizure meds and with much hard work and perseverance she succeeded. She just graduated college with a 3.5 GPA and a ma major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She plans on being an APRN She still has a few 'leftover' diabilites. Spelling is a problem and she has to keep herself very organized. She is my hero. To parents of children with disabilities I say never underestimate your child's abilities or talents. Testing can show strengths and weaknesses but sucess cannot be measured nor predicted.

BCgradnurse, MSN, RN, NP

Specializes in allergy and asthma, urgent care. Has 12 years experience.

What a beautiful tribute to your daughter! you are so lucky to have each other!

jifferte, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in Nsg. Ed, Infusion, Pediatrics, LTC. Has 20 years experience.

This is a beautiful tribute. As a mom of an 11 year old on the spectrum, the joy you take in your daughter brought a smile to my face!

NanikRN

Specializes in Oncology, Rehab, Public Health, Med Surg.

Is she autistic or artitisic?

Who cares?? She's herself, and she's wonderful!

I myself have a non-verbal learning disability (NLD). Yet I'm a proud mother of a daughter who happens to score off-the-charts above and beyond when tested on her non-verbal battery. I can learn a language in 5 minutes; yet the intricate details in my daughter's drawings at the age of 4 got her in early gifted education and a full scholarship to art school now as a sophomore. I am socially awkward; yet she just "can't help" acting out because she likes to decipher the reactive nuances in other people (that 65-85% of communication that's completely oblivious to me).

Nonetheless, my particular forte predisposes me to see precisely how this mispronunciation (particularly if British), as a collectively subconscious thing society does to lump those awesome eccentrics - proud enough to stand out for who they are - into boxes. Categories that aren't at all well defined, as the "misfits" themselves are indefinably unique.

I'm actually rather optimistic that the DSM-5 is hesitant to do this very thing to NLD. Imagine, all those non-verbal spatialists out there (here we go again, not to be confused with "specialists") all labelled as "artists". Hmmph. Computer programmers would riot!...Science engineers and doctors would sue!...We NEED to get rid of this subconscious thing and use some narrowing down discernment here. That or fix our native language. Oh, I said subconscious? Lol, I meant "unconscious". My bad.

Roy Hanson

Specializes in as above. Has 36 years experience.

could be both! I have seen many autistic kids that once they have found their niche..excell in it. Singing, arts..why?

Nurses should know this.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

That was joyful :)

poppycat, ADN, BSN

Specializes in pediatrics; PICU; NICU. Has 43 years experience.

Wonderful article! My 25 year old daughter is also on the spectrum. She had a hard time in elementary & high school but I think it was mostly because she just wasn't interested in her subjects. She has, so far, completed an Associate's degree, has a Bachelor's degree in psychology, & is working on her Master's in addiction studies. She has maintained a 3.5-4.0 GPA all the way through college. I'm very proud of her & I fully believe that people with any kind of disability are held back only by people who tell them they can't do something.

Donna Maheady

Specializes in Pediatrics, developmental disabilities. Has 38 years experience.

people with any kind of disability are held back only by people who tell them they can't do something.

So true!!! Thanks for commenting!

Zelda, RN

Specializes in Pediatrics.

I love this! As someone with siblings who have different special needs - one of my sisters is nonverbal and has Down syndrome, one is blind with some RAD behaviors from her first few years in the orphanage, and one of my brothers has Spina bifida - this speaks to me deeply. It is beautifully and eloquently written. :)