‘Artistic’ Versus ‘Autistic?’
By Kami-Leigh Agard
Over the years, oftentimes I’ve been posed the question as to why this column about parenting a child on the autism spectrum, is titled, “Life with my ‘Artistic’ Child.” Recently, I was reminded about this when I met with a local parent, who mentioned her reservations about the “autism” label. Admittedly, I too tend to shy away from the “autistic” label, as I think perhaps, my daughter, 14-year-old Soanirina, automatically may be categorized as less than. For example, “neurotypical” children are described as “athletic,” “talkative,” “quiet,” or simply, “smart.” However, my thought to use the word, “artistic,” for this column was not to evade the “autistic” label, but to share why “artistic,” encapsulates the majesty of our different-abled children. Readers, to lend some clarity, I thought it useful to share an excerpt from my inaugural column published in The Rockaway Times on Thursday, September 8, 2016. Readers, time does fly—but this quote from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” comes to mind: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,” and our autistic populace is a testimony to that.
Yes, I consider my daughter, “artistic,” remodeling the label, “autistic.”
Eight years ago, my beautiful daughter was born… She met all her initial milestones. She sat up at three months, crawled at six months and was walking like a ballerina on her toes at 12 months. “Thank God,” I thought. However, at eighteen months, my mother-in-law revealed to us that she suspected that our daughter had some autistic characteristics. I remember feeling livid. Like, how dare you put that label on my daughter? To be honest, I had no idea what she was talking about. Autism? What is that?
Anyway, to prove her wrong, I called NYC’s Early Intervention to have my daughter screened. I remember when the psychologist did certain exercises with her and she did not respond as what was deemed, “normal.” I cried. I thought he was so rough with her. So, what if she is not making eye contact? So, what if she’s not stacking the blocks, instead choosing to throw them over her shoulder? So, what if she walks on her toes? The result was that she was diagnosed with PDD.
Fast-forward to the present…Soanirina is nonverbal, (as of now), walks on her toes and does some peculiar self-stimulating actions. And yet, she is so gifted. Soa could hear a song once, then after, sing it in its entirety. She learned to rollerblade after just one trial run. She skateboards, ice-skates and snowboards. We had her in gymnastics. My little girl was racing through each balance beam, regardless of the height, like it was nobody’s business. Unfortunately, the instructor said he could not have her in the class because he was unable to focus on the other children. However, everyone says she has all the natural equipment and characteristics to exceed athletically.
This is why when asked, I tell people that my daughter is “artistic,” as opposed to autistic. She’s beautiful, gifted and a savant in her own rights.
I must give a colossal shoutout to Rockaway Times founding publisher, Kevin Boyle. Kevin—you were the catalyst that propelled the momentum, leading to the founding of Rockaway Beach Autism Families, and its precursor, Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families Support Group. Thank you, Mr. Boyle!
Save the date! On Sunday, April 23, RBAF is hosting Rockaway’s first-ever “Walk for Autism” on the boardwalk, kicking off at Beach 126th Street! To register (free!), visit: rockawaybeachautismfamilies.org. All welcome! For further info, email email@example.com or visit Rockaway Beach Autism Families on Facebook/Instagram. “Join us in turning the tide for the autism community, one wave at a time.”