Painting, Self-Identity, and Deviation

woman pouring down a brown paint
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

On Saturday, I had a chance to do a “paint and sip” afternoon. I wasn’t even going to go at first, but was talked into it by a childhood friend of mine. The experience gave me an interesting look at creativity, our self-identity, and how willing we are to deviate from societal norms.

For these events, we are usually given a beginning sketch, and then are walked through how to essentially duplicate the picture. It’s a genius idea, because the steps are explained in such a way where you would have to really try to mess it up. It’s nearly fool proof. This picture, titled “Golden Goddess,” featured a black woman’s facial outline and shoulder. Everything else would have to be painted in.

I started deviating a bit from the start. I mixed the colors for the skin tone a bit differently, and I decided that I wasn’t going to give her a curly afro like the example because I wanted her to look more like me. I also wasn’t going to be too crazy with her makeup because, again, that wasn’t me. I found myself wishing that I had blue instead of green paint so that I could make purple and really let loose on the color scheme.

Strangely enough, it never crossed my mind to ask for blue paint.

I knew what elements I wanted to add to the painting, but I didn’t because I didn’t feel that I had the resources or access to them…even though there was plenty of blue paint on one of the counters at the front of the room. I didn’t think to ask and instead just sat, wishing.

While in the midst of this mini-crisis, I starting looking at the others’ paintings. Most were following the instructions to the letter. Then I saw one woman who had clearly decided to go a different route. Her finished goddess ended up with pinkish-red bushy hair, a green top instead of a red one, and roses around her instead of circles. It looked awesome.

My finished goddess looked like a halfway point between the example and whatever I wanted. I love her, but I know that she can be more.

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I then started looking at more pictures from the business of other painting parties. I was genuinely curious at how few people tried to deviate from the presenting pictures. There were several where I thought, “Oh, I would’ve added these colors, maybe changed that background into this.” When it came to the painting of a black woman, though, I saw the highest number of deviations to have the subject look more like the painter. So why didn’t I see such deviation with the landscape or object painting classes?

No, I’m not answering or looking to answer that question. This is more simply food for thought. How willing are you to paint outside the lines? Do you prefer to follow the norms, or pivot a little? How much do you pivot? How does art help one deviate a bit more than usual? If you know what you want to create, how willing are you to pursue it?

Monday motivation, indeed.

Psychology Today: “Change Artists”

Count on one of the parents of a client to spot this before I did. 🙂

I am proud to be featured in Psychology Today’s cover story, “Change Artists,” for their February 2018 issue. I did my interview (through email and phone) months ago, and had almost forgotten about it. I had no idea that it was going to be a cover story, though!

The article speaks to several people about how they were able to change their lives or their overall view of life. My part involved me talking about some of my insecurities, which is something I rarely talk about outside of friends, and how I overcame them. I am about halfway, and again near the end, as Angel Wilson.

Overall, it’s a really good article and while long, is worth the read. I hope it inspires a lot of people! Thank you to the author Abby Ellin; you did an amazing job, even while being sick! 🙂

Psychology Today: Change Artists

The MI Series: Interpersonal

This is one of the less tangible areas of Multiple Intelligence, a theory presented by Howard Gardner that proposes eight areas of intelligence rather than just one. Last week, I introduced the Visual/Spatial area. This week, I will talk a bit about the Interpersonal area.

Per Gardner, Interpersonal refers to “accurately determining moods, feelings and other mental states…in others and using the information as a guide for behavior” (Gardner, Exploring Intelligence, p.22). In other words, Interpersonal refers to the ability to “read a room,” a person, or a situation and respond accordingly. This includes reading social cues from someone who is talking to you, recognizing when someone is upset, or knowing how to respond if someone starts to cry.

With autism, this is usually one of the main areas that many therapeutic approaches work on. A vast majority of human communication is non-verbal, and being unable to translate or decode those signals can put one at a substantial disadvantage in many areas of their lives (career, relationships, etc.).

Those who are high in Interpersonal intelligence work well in careers that involve communication and working with people regularly: therapists, social workers, politicians, and religious leaders all far into this domain. This is also one of the domains that can easily be carried over into other domains.

One of the more interesting aspects of the research I did for this post is how often the frontal lobe of the brain is mentioned. This area is seen as the “heart” of the Interpersonal domain, and if it is damaged or does not develop properly, it could lead to difficulties in the area of social skills. There have been many documented cases of individuals being social and personable people until a frontal lobe injury leads to a complete change in personality. This alone can lead to a lengthy discussion, especially when it comes to autism, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.

 

Additional Reading

Frames of Mind, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner. BasicBooks, 1983.

Teaching Students with high Interpersonal Intelligence This is a nice article on how teachers can foster Interpersonal Intelligence in students, particularly those who seem to already have a knack for it.

Interpersonal Intelligence/Social Skills: Wikipedia The autism factor is briefly explored in this entry

 

Photo from socialpronow.com

Police Autism App

Technology really is incredible, if you think about it. A great example of this is the article below, about a Minnesota police officer created an app to help officers if they encounter an autistic person. If they get within 40 feet of someone on the spectrum, they are given not just a name and photo sent to their phone, but some quick info of what can cause behaviors (loud noises, for example) and how to calm the person.

I have no idea where the police get that type of information from (a database, maybe?), and that could lead to a whole discussion of privacy issues (could employers have access to that information during background checks?). The article does not go into that much detail about…well, the details. I think it is intriguing, though, and I am glad that police across the country are starting to address this issue. It will be interesting to see how this continues to develop.

New autism app for police being tested

Autism and the Placebo Effect

This is a great read into the Placebo Effect and how it affects autistic individuals, their families, and even scientists and doctors when it comes to research. It’s a bit long, but a great discussion starter.

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/12/spectrum-autism-placebo/509189/

Autism and ADHD

This is an article that came out this week about how often autism and ADHD not only coincide, but also why they may be more similar than first thought. Many of my autistic clients certainly have some of the major indicators of ADHD, and this has been a suspicion amongst those of us in the field for quite awhile. I also appreciate the detail at which the brain function similarities are explained. Check it out below (first link is the news article, second link is the study itself):

Autism and ADHD

Autism/ADHD study, published 11/2/16 on PLOS ONE

Early Intervention Study

Below is a link to a Forbes article about a recent study published in The Lancet. The study involved a look at an early intervention technique for autism called PACT, which stands for  Preschool Autism Communication Trial. The approach essentially trains the parents to recognize communication attempts and cues from their autistic children. The intervention starts at preschool age, goes for about a year, and follows up with the participants around age 10.

While I really like the idea of giving power back to the families (unlike, say, many forms of ABA that leaves power with the professionals), I also see the author’s point of whether or not PACT truly had an effect. There is a lot of data analysis in here, so if you prefer to just get the abridged version, the first few paragraphs of page one and the last few paragraphs of page two will suffice.

Analysis of the PACT study

My First Autism Trainings

Over the past two months, I have had the amazing opportunity to talk with volunteers from a great nonprofit about autism.

These two trainings (with one more coming up in about two weeks) were more than just throwing up a PowerPoint and shooting off some stats about autism. I always wanted it to be more than that. We had discussions. We dispelled myths. We got personal as the volunteers began to realize that the behavior of those around them made so much more sense now. I met one volunteer’s autistic teen son and had a rousing conversation about Pokemon Go and what he wants to do for a career. I spoke with clients of the nonprofit itself who listened in out of curiosity. For some, they walked in with the extent of their knowledge of autism consisting of the movie Rain Man. They left knowing more, and most importantly, wanting to know much more. One even asked if she could bring her teen children to the next training.

This is the gap I hope to fill. The concept of autism awareness has become, to me, something of a gimmick. Light everything in blue, raise some money, and then business as usual until next year. Meanwhile, families continue to face battles everyday coming from the lack of actual awareness and acceptance in the world at large. Hardly anyone in my trainings knew that autism had anything to do with sensory processing and sensitivity. They didn’t know that an autism “meltdown” is different from a regular tantrum. They had no idea what having autism feels or looks like.

They know now.

If that 1.5 hour training helps them understand, build acceptance, and be willing to talk to someone whose experience is different from theirs without judgement, then I consider it Mission Accomplished.

FYI: The nonprofit where I have been training volunteers is called the JW House, a place for families of hospitalized individuals to unwind and feel welcomed. Check them out below!

The JW House

The Interview/Rejection

I’ve seen some great videos come out of the National Autistic Society in the UK about the autism experience. I really wish that the US organizations would take a similar approach, but hopefully we’ll get there. I want to hear from some of you: do you think that this video captures some aspects of adult autism? Is there anything that is different in your personal experience? I would love to use it in an upcoming training, but I wanted to see what others thought first.

 

Holding Space

Over the last few months, this concept has popped up numerous times in both my professional and personal life. It’s not as straightforward as traditional psychological terms and approaches, but I wanted to speak on my view of it since most of us will be in this situation at some point.

There will be moments where you simply won’t know what to say to a person. Perhaps they just lost someone, or are ranting madly because they’ve been wronged in some way. There’s really nothing you can do to help the situation. So, what do you do?

As a therapist, I’ve had these moments. I’ve had to be the solid pillar while someone’s life was falling apart. I’ve had to break seemingly bad news to parents about their child. I’ve had to sit with a teenager while her brother lay in a hospital, dying. In all of these situations, I had to realize that nothing I say is going to make the situation go away. I can’t remove the pain. The other thing I realized was that I could not bring myself to give some kind of rote response. “You’ll be okay” or “Everything happens for a reason” won’t cut it here.

Here is where the concept of holding space comes in. You simply make that space a container. In these moments, people often just need to express. There is no pressure to think up a solution for the person. They already know that you can’t do anything about it. They sometimes already know that they’ll get through it. In that moment, though, they need to process. They need somewhere safe to vocalize their frustrations, sorrow, confusion, and occasionally socially unacceptable thoughts.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In the therapy field, we are almost programmed to think up solutions, and we may think up some right at these difficult moments. A lot of times, though, that’s not what people need. They need to feel a sense of peace, to know that at their most vulnerable moment, you are making them feel safe. I have been on the flip side of this, where I expected a place to be able to express myself, and instead was reduced to tears by someone who felt that I needed a “reality check” at that moment. No, I didn’t. I needed to process my feelings, and I was demeaned for it. After that, I never trusted that person as a confidant again, and I learned how not to be with regards to future clients.

You don’t have to be a therapist to do this. Sometimes friends and family just need to talk, and maybe sit in silence for a bit. We are often so afraid of silence, when it can be an amazing gift. Silence allows processing, and it allows Spirit to enter the picture. To me, this is holding space: creating a safe, peaceful environment to allow another to process and express…and to allow Spirit to enter and help heal.