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Painting Series by Jean-Sebastien Choo, Self-taught Autistic Artist #19—Mind Canvas

by Choo Kah Ying

Whenever I tell people who ask how Sebastien, my autistic son, is doing very well, their first follow-up question would be something along the lines of, "Does he speak more words these days?" Although I can easily empathise with such a neurotypical sentiment, it also saddens me to no end. For it illuminates the immense challenge faced by A Mother's Wish in its mission to change the limiting, but predominant, mindset of many, including parents of autistic individuals and professionals working with them.

Such a mindset prevents us from being humble and open enough to truly strive to understand the atypical inner life of autistic individuals, particularly those on the non-verbal end of the spectrum. If we are to truly embrace our autistic counterparts and include them in our world, we need to accept that not everyone's bodies, mind, and senses are built the same way. And the onus should fall on all of us to try to relate to one another, not just on the autistic individuals to change and accommodate us. Some of them just can't, perhaps because their "sensory plate" is already so full from having to deal with the environment around them.

Unfortunately, most of us are still clinging to narrow mainstream standards, whereby autistic individuals' progress is determined only by the extent to which they behave and do things like the rest of us. Until we are willing to let go of our constrictive notions of how communication is supposed to be, we will sadly miss all the signals that our autistic loved ones could be sending out to us, in their valiant attempt to connect to us.

This is what I value in Sebastien's self-guided and self-taught painting forays. A tool that enables him to regulate his emotions, his painting activity captures irrevocably a pure instance of his mind on canvas—when he feels calm enough to emerge from his processing of a life journey, which he cannot "articulate" in any other way.

(Mind Canvas, 14 x 11 in, water color and poster color, canvas panel, SGD180 + shipping)

So rather than wish that Sebastien would one day speak our language, we could quiet our senses, suspend our noisy minds, and open up our imagination. Perhaps, if we were willing to study his mind canvas by removing the blinkers of our usual way of thinking, we might just begin to understand what it takes to connect with autistic individuals. A connection and relationship that is freed of the expectations of either party having to "get it right" in their communication without another. At the end of the day, what really matters is the trying...

Reading the Expressions of Sebastien as He Connects with the World Around Him

To support Sebastien in his artistic pursuits and his life in Bali, as well as A Mother's Wish's mission of advocating for non-verbal autistic individuals:

Digital versions of Sebastien’s art for Patreon sponsors and epubs with insights about his artistic life: (you can support his existence for as little as USD5/month!)

Thank you so much!


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