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Artistic Autistic

When I was about five years old, I was introduced to the psychedelic delight known as ‘The Yellow Submarine.’ It was created in Soho during the mythical summer of love and there is no doubt that it was itself a lovechild created from many chemical stimulants. I adored it at first sight: I loved the music, I loved the colours, I loved the questionable puns, I loved the story, but most of all, I loved the imagination on display. I loved the fact that people had created this incandescent world where any type of creature could live, survive and thrive, but they had also created a viable representation of the dull, industrial depressing townscape (set in Liverpool) as a counterpoint to the colourful, that resonated with me whilst I sat in front of my television in the industrial Midlands.

It took many years for me to work out why the animation had successfully held my fascination for so long and why I was so in awe of what it represented: to me, it was almost the holy grail of creativity. I believe that it has much to do with the fact that I don’t have a conventional imagination, due to my neurodivergence, which means that I am fundamentally unable to create something ‘new’ in the traditional sense. But just because I cannot ‘create’ in that sense, I do have other abilities: I can take images, ideas and visuals that I have previously seen or experienced, and reproduce them, or make connections. Indeed, I have spent many years being creative: I credit my autism with my ability to remember vast amounts of text, recognise colours and audio / visual patterns or connections, where others may struggle. I have worked as a makeup artist and techie on productions, performed on stage in professional and amateur shows, I have made jewellery, clothing, furniture, and drawings. I have also spent a large amount of my life writing and creating new documents, explaining information and ensuring that others can understand complex theories.

Autism is a neurological divergence and like anyone else, I have abilities that make some activities easier and some more difficult. Like many of my generation, there was a very specific view of autism when I was growing up, which also meant that it was considered to be very rare. Also like many others, I was very late to understanding why I struggled in certain social situations, why I had difficulties in processing at speed, when I had increased sensitivities, but I was good at recalling rules, recognising, understanding and replicating details, and learning how to react ‘appropriately.’ People tend to think of famous autistic actors,[1] musicians,[2] directors,[3] singers,[4] writers,[5] environmentalists,[6] or comedians,[7] but the reality is that so many autistic people already work throughout different areas of creative industries and many may not realise that they are autistic. This may be due in part to the way that autism has traditionally been presented as a condition, as there is a preconception that it presents in particular ways, but the reality is that there are many different traits and characteristics: some are usually designated as ‘male’ or ‘female’ type traits, because they commonly occur in one more than the other, but in practice, they can occur in either males or females. For example, ‘masking’ is a trait typically attributed to autistic females, which is a method of mimicry often employed to allow them to fit in within social situations, but it is also an incredible asset to actors of any gender.

Much is made about the needs and difficulties of autistic people:[8] in no way am I seeking to detract or dispute, or undermine such needs, but I would like to take the time to highlight the positives that autistic people can provide, rather than to focus upon the problems. I personally know many people who work in the creative arts who are autistic, and they can thrive in what they do because it plays to their strengths, allowing them to find an area that enables them to specialise. Those people who I know in the industry have invariably devoted themselves to furthering their knowledge and skills because of their love for the subject. Their attention to details, the ability to recall and to see new ways of doing things are all positive autistic traits that are often taken for granted by those around them and sometimes by the people themselves.

About the author
Gardner is an autistic individual, with extensive experience as an academic, senior policy advisor and senior litigation caseworker in London. Currently engaged as a parent, disability advocate, freelance author, perpetual student, editor of texts and occasional floozy.

[1] Anthony Hopkins, Daryl Hannah and Dan Ackroyd are often cited.
[2] Marty Balin and Tony DeBlois.
[3] Woody Allen and Tim Burton (both unconfirmed).
[4] Susan Boyle and Courtney Love
[5] Lewis Carroll and Hans Christian Andersen (both unconfirmed).
[6] Chris Packham and Greta Thunberg.
[7] Hannah Gadsby and Robert White.
[8] There are discussions on whether it is better to refer to ‘people with autism’, or ‘autistic people’ my usage in this piece is made as purely as a personal preference.

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