Transforming the Eye of the Beholder to "See" the Autistic Individual in an Amazing Light
Painting Series by Jean-Sebastien Choo, Self-taught Autistic Artist, #22
by Choo Kah Ying
Transforming the Eye of the Beholder
(12 x 9 in, water color and poster color, stretched canvas, SGD140 + shipping)
Most of us are familiar with the saying: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Though typically associated with the outer appearances of art, objects, people, and places, this saying actually shines the spotlight on the subjectivity of the beholder. Essentially, what the beholders perceive says far more them than what they are beholding. And if you think about it, the beholders thus hold the key to their experience of the art, objects, people, and places they are beholding.
Now in calling this painting, Transforming the Eye of the Beholder, I am harking back to A Mother's mission of advocating for the non-verbal autistics. When we neurotypicals behold our autistic loved ones, we tend to misinterpret their ways of expressing or communicating themselves. This is because we see them through the lenses of mainstream norms and perspectives that have been developed by neurotypicals for neurotypicals.
Due to our rigid conformity to our way of doing things, we label the autistics' differences as being "socially inappropriate" without pausing—for a moment—to try to understand WHY they are behaving in this way. Certainly, the possibility that our autistic loved ones may be employing creative, expressive, and unique, albeit different and unfamiliar, strategies to regulate themselves and communicate with us, will not even occur to us. Instead, many well-intentioned neurotypical parents and professionals will seek to suppress the autistics' behaviour or redirect them without wondering how we would feel if someone would do that to us... all the time.
In our way of thinking, we don't realise that telling an autistic person to have "quiet hands" (hand-flapping) and to stop rocking is preventing them from releasing their excitement and anxiety, respectively. We are unaware that our autistic loved ones' engagement in some of these activities is actually helping them to self-regulate and cope with life.
Certainly, when we are witnessing yet another episode of our autistic loved ones hitting their head, breaking things, and/or screaming abuses, we likely do not realise that such meltdowns could be happening far more frequently, if not for their rocking, jumping, hand-flapping on other occasions. We are also not likely to recognise that the days of peace and quiet prior to this meltdown (the period that we consider as a matter of course) have been taking a toll on our autistic loved ones.
Because this is what it takes for your autistic loved ones to keep it together in a world that is not built for their powerful sensory systems and atypical perceptions.
Essentially, the number of distressing and explosive meltdowns could be far greater in number if our autistic loved ones weren't trying as hard as they are to tolerate living in our world.
Can you imagine living in a world, day after day, that is overwhelming to your eyes, ears, brain, etc., and having to deal with people who "behold" you with contempt, bewilderment, or superiority?
Our autistic loved ones are living such a life, day after day. Those days that seem magical, when everything seems to come together, is a testimony to their effort to keep it together. But our autistic loved ones are not able to sustain it, day after day. It takes a toll on them, unless they are given the space, time, and our ongoing support to recover from putting themselves out there.
Because you don't "see" this toll, you don't see how amazing your autistic loved one is.
Through our understanding of Sebastien and his inner world, we can genuinely recognise how strong and courageous he is to live in our midst. Concomitantly, he too has become infinitely happier since he has become surrounded by people who see him in this brand new light.
And thus, with this post, I hope that your perspectives of your autistic loved ones will be transformed and you can see how amazing they are. This is a necessary first step to changing the dynamics of your relationship.
P.S. To gain more insights about managing adolescent meltdowns from a loving perspective, check out the free event—a "fireside chat" of two mums on December 2, 2021, 8–9:30 pm (Singapore time) : https://www.amotherswish.com.sg/single-post/autism-pains-meltdowns-in-puberty-and-beyond-free-event