Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Expression and Autism

For those not familiar with my research focus, I study the communications skills of teens and adults with autism. My particular interest is original compositions by those diagnosed with autism. This research leads me to study language, neurology, psychology, and more. Neurolinguistics are important, for example, but I never assume that "composition" must refer to written or spoken language. We have elevated the printed word far beyond what seems reasonable to me -- most communication is non-textual.

This summer I have a funded project to study online expression created by and/or for people with autism spectrum disorders.

I have studied at least 100 sites, now. Many of these are blogs, a major form of online self-expression. Others are communities with online forums. I will be writing about my findings in August, after I generate statistical reports on my observations. Ethically, it would be incorrect to discuss any "findings" until my research is complete and reviewed.

However, I wanted to discuss a personal observation that is outside my research.

Several of the communities has forums to post writing, photography, or other forms of artistic expression. When anyone doubts the emotional, creative capacities of individuals with ASDs, I suggest we point to these online examples.

Certainly there is a flood of teen-angst poetry, but that points to the fact students with ASDs are like other teens. There are also refined poems and stories written by adults who have more experience with written language. Everyone, with or without an ASD, has to master an art over time. Even savants get better with practice. The photography is often focused on patterns. I love such images and find them fascinating. Other forms of art are also quite compelling and reflect a desire to connect with larger groups. The musical compositions reflect two diverse groups: derivative works and stunningly unique scores.

The creative expressions by people with autism might be different. Some suggest poetry by individuals with autism is more about the self. But, photography? Painting? Musical compositions? I'm simply impressed there are so many artistic individuals online -- challenging assumptions that people with autism are not creative and don't seek audiences.

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