Adam’s Delicate Line

Filed Under (Adam, Art, Autism and Intelligence, Autism and Learning, Communication) by Estee on 19-11-2009

MaountainChairIt's a Butterflyrose and Peacock

As a curator of art I have a special interest in “self-taught” art, otherwise known as “Outsider Art” or “Naive Art.” I find these latter terms unfortunate if not unnecessary and, noting my bias, degrading as terms to describe the work, typically, of challenged individuals. In the Art World, the term was used to create a category of art because it did not seek a point of reference from within the “higher” art world.

This post for me is thrilling. Today’s Parent magazine in an article called “Is It A Learning Disability?” , suggested that children with learning disabilities (LD’s) ..” don’t draw,” the caption said, “they scribble.” They is used as yet another “outsider” term, using the “they” as a foreign connotation. I retorted at how important any human marking is, a scribble or a sun. Adam’s motor planning issues makes holding a pen or pencil very difficult. He could draw letters lightly when he was very young and his first “picture” was a happy face with long hair when he was six years old. When I asked him who it was he said “mommy.” Of course that stays in my treasure chest forever.

I like to draw and I’m quite average at it. This past summer, I spent a few hours with Adam drawing what was around us at the cottage we rented, and I tried to teach him how to paint by numbers with a watercolour set — to “stay within the lines.” So counterintuitive is the paint-by-numbers set to me, but I noticed Adam’s willingness and effort to gently use a small watercolour brush, and his keen interest in painting. It also doesn’t hurt that one of his grandmother’s is a painter, his grandfather is a photographer, and his half-brother, a master at etch-a-sketch, not to mention his other artistic pursuits. Adam is interested in all of their work and I’m certain they have all imparted their own abilities to him.

I was not expecting these drawings passed to me from school the other day because I guess we can never know if or when we can expect things to happen, and it wouldn’t be anything I’d force upon him. Adam draws, as of this week, by his own motivation. He suddenly copied pictures from books and I’m utterly breathless at his line and his attention to detail. He told his aide what the pictures depicted and you can see her handwriting — a verbatim record of what he said. From a developmental perspective, I suppose you could say he is seeing the “whole picture.” His attention to detail, bearing in mind his motor challenges, seem remarkable particularly when one’s child has not been able to express themselves easily.

Art can tell us a lot about what a person sees, how they see it, and how they can express it with certain challenges. As I was always certain that Adam could “see the whole picture,” I post here, I suppose, what society needs and what it likes to chew on, which is the sad part of being a part of such an achievement-oriented society. But let’s for a few wonderful moments just savour how beautiful his lines are — how delicate and careful.

Maybe we all need to be as delicate and careful when discussing the abilities and challenges of all people. We may not all become artists, we may not all talk, but it certainly does not mean that we do not understand or have anything to say.


Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.