Autism Advocacy Through the Art of Storytelling
One day, a kindergarten teacher was walking around her class, checking in on her students to see how they were progressing on their art assignment. Pleased with what she was seeing, she continued to move about the room, slowly pacing by each child’s desk, periodically pausing and offering words of praise and affirmation to her young pupils. She rounded the corner towards the back of her classroom and as she approached young Sarah, she saw what looked to be the beginning stages of an interesting art project.
The teacher leaned over to get a closer look at Sarah’s picture. When she was unable to discern what the picture was, she said to her, “Sarah, that’s an interesting picture, what are you drawing?” Without looking up, Sarah replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God!” Stunned for a brief moment, the teacher chuckled and said to Sarah, “Oh honey, no one really knows what God looks like.” Without so much of a flinch of confusion, Sarah confidently replied, “They will when I’m done with my picture!”
I believe the best pictures of the divine sometimes come from what some people would consider the most unlikely of sources. As a pastor and public speaker, I can testify to the importance of storytelling as one of the most powerful forms of art. The ability to weave words together to create a tapestry of images that inspire the mind and stir the soul is indeed artistic — and it is actually my autism that has given me this precious gift. My advocacy is my art, autism is my canvas and my work is to inspire people to experience the divine in the most unlikely of sources and in some of the most unlikely spaces.
For me, autism self-advocacy is an art form aimed at accentuating the beauty found in our humanity. Autism awareness and acceptance should be about expanding people’s exposure to the life of autistic people. That can’t be done with statistics; it can only be done with the art of telling stories.
1. Share the sacred.
The best pictures of the divine are painted on the canvas of the deepest and most sacred places of our hearts. Sacred is whatever is separated for a special purpose. My routines, my repetitive behavior, my sensory processing issues are all sacred spaces that serve a special purpose. They are more than “quirks” — they are what makes me complete. When you share what’s sacred to you, it has a way of painting a picture of a person who isn’t flawed or broken, but rather one who is filled with faith, hope, and strength.
2. Share your struggles.
Life is art. Every part of it. There are no moments in life that have no meaning, even the bad ones. Autism comes with its share of struggles, but all art is the process of creating beauty from ashes. The art of storytelling includes sharing your struggles so that others can be inspired to survive theirs. Your struggles give credence to your creativity as an artist, so never be afraid to allow your art to be created from places where you may feel conflicted.
3. Share your suspicions.
True art questions. True art critiques. True art combines the gifts of critical observation with the power of curious optimism. When you share your story, create the type of art that challenges the world to challenge itself by questioning itself, critiquing itself, and developing the type of curiosity that both demands and inspires change.
4. Share your strengths.
I believe the art of story telling requires faith. Art requires faith because it creates beauty from places where nothing beautiful exists. The goal and the role of both faith and art has never been safety. The role of art and faith is courage. Living with autism is living with strength, passion, and perseverance. Your story is a story of strength and skill that is so profound and powerful that it is artistic. You are not limited, and you are not a liability. You are strong, so share your strength with the world.
5. Share your suggestions.
Good art captures the eyes. Great art captures the ears. Telling your story doesn’t just ask for attention, telling your story can ask for adjustments. Your story is so incredibly valuable to the world that it serves as a voice. Your story, your art, and your voice deserves to be taken seriously, and with that responsibility comes the responsibility to offer your solutions and your suggestions for ways that the world can be a better place for the autism community.