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Drawing Autism

abradycole's picture

For my next paper I want to examine how art therapy is used by children with autism and how their work is perceived by neurotypical people. I've been watching lots of videos made by news stations about talented autistic children and I've been amazed at how often they're turned into supercrips. One example is reactions to the paintings of a five-year-old girl in the UK. Here are some of the headlines:

"Worldwide impression"

"The Miracle of Little Miss Masterpiece"

"Silent Tot's Magnificent Masterpiece"

"Autistic Toddler's Paintings Sell For Thousands" 

In almost every article, her work is referred to as "her therapy paintings" instead of simply, her paintings. Why is it that the therapeutic nature of her work disallows her art from simply being art --- her self expression like any other artist? We've talked some about art therapy, but I'd like to explore the idea of word "therapy" diminishing the perceived quality and significance of the artist's process and product.

Many exhibitions of works by autistic artists focus on the idea of autism looking different in every person. Because no two autism diagnoses are the same, the work produced always comes from a completely unique perspective on the world. I think this framework is problematic because implies an assumption that neurotypical people have individuality whereas autistic people do not. I’d like to learn more about how perceptions of disability often mask individuality and humanity by becoming the most visible or easily recognized aspect of a person’s identity.