My son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Unfortunately, up until that point in time, I had no real knowledge of what I was dealing with. Like any parent I did my best to get informed so that I could help my son and myself cope with the symptoms.
I was overly enthusiastic in my approach, not to say that I was desperate, but I was. I had days where I would deal with four hour meltdowns. A meltdown is different than a tantrum because in a tantrum situation you give a child what they want and the tantrum goes away, with a meltdown it doesn’t. My son would break things, throw chairs, streak (even in public), cry, scream and then some, much to my embarrassment, nourishing my feelings of inadequacy and failure as a parent. On days like that, I would go from having an average day to being barely able to emotionally want to deal with everyday routine.
The lack of emotional response from my son was incredibly painful for me. He lacked the eye contact that is so important in order to get a sense of acknowledgement and understanding. When I told my son I loved him, he would just ignore me or say something like, “I know mom,” with a blank look in his eye. I could go on and on about his symptoms but I will just go into the part that helped.
Painting provided an outlet of expression for my son, one where color, shape and texture were his means of communication. It helped deal with some of his sensory issues, calmed him down and made him more manageable, rather than always be angry and frustrated because others couldn’t understand what he needed or felt. It was messy but it taught me that sometimes having fun is letting go of things that normally would aggravate me. Inadvertently, this helped our relationship grow and bonded us together with something we both loved doing. Painting unlocked something in his brain, that although mysterious to me still, made him happy, more communicative, eager to spend positive good times with me rather than always be at the offensive.
Nowadays, my son and I come to a spat and he will come and apologize with a drawing like this one:
He crossed himself out in this picture and put himself in his room, while I (the other stick figure) turned away upset. I noticed how he drew himself in a little cocoon, depicting how he was a developing little thing needing nurturing.
What pleased me the most was that he was able to deal with his feelings openly and constructively and even went out of his way to make a picture that warmed my heart.