I thought my kid's behavior in school was a result of me encouraging her to color outside the lines.
If it hadn't been for the pandemic, we probably would've never had her tested for autism.
Her diagnosis explains her love of and talent for art.
When the pandemic closed schools, I filled my daughter's days with drawing, painting, crafts, and Frida Kahlo. We created self-portraits in the style of Picasso's Cubism, practiced Native Tlingit Formline, and sketched characters that could fly. With art, we could escape the confinement of four walls and a dangerous virus that lurked beyond our door.
Soon my daughter was drawing masterpieces on the kitchen floor with Sharpie and chalking over the bathroom sink and walls. She's 6, or 0.8 in dog years, but who needs a puppy when your child chews sticks, howls, and climbs into the cheese bin at the grocery store?
She started turning everything into art
As the sideways-rain season changed to the sideways-snow season, everything in my house was repurposed into art. Guitar strings became bracelets, flowers were sacrificed to make mandalas, and household appliances transformed into interactive I-spies.
When my daughter drew her feelings all over the walls with my lipstick, I blamed Miró. After making "sound art" out of my tampons and using the applicators as whistles, I accused Nick Cave. When I discovered the sink hardware revamped into a dangling art installation, my daughter asked, "Why are you grumpy? Did a bug fly up your nose?" (I had just told her about how Salvador Dalí would anoint his mustache with honey, on which flies would perch.)
The way I saw it, it was art's fault. Maybe I shouldn't have taught her to color outside the lines, to imagine herself soaring over rooftops like Chagall, to prank like Banksy. Art breaks the rules. Art pushes boundaries. In my teaching her abstract art, she learned to break rules and push my boundaries.
We got a diagnosis once school started in person again
When school finally opened up, the principal informed me that my daughter was decorating soap on the mirrors, toilet-papering the sinks, and creating origami boats with the handwashing posters. It made me wonder if she had gone completely feral.
The school psychologist suggested I get her tested for autism. Maybe instead of being incorrigibly artistic, she just had autism.
Sure enough, the psychiatrist diagnosed her with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. In fact, the psychiatrist believes that had it not been for the pandemic, we never would have seen the behaviors that led to the diagnosis. A 2019 study found that one-quarter of children with autism went undiagnosed. Girls can be particularly affected, as they can be better at masking symptoms.
As research suggests that people with autism have greater activity in the areas of the brain associated with visual detection, identification, and memory, it is not uncommon for people with autism to be excellent artists. I heard several stories from parents of how their children with autism documented details of otherwise ordinary objects, then re-created them from memory with astonishing nuance - such as when my daughter drew from memory a tree with an intricate root system, branches, knots, detailed leaves, and a perfect sparrow with clearly outlined feathers.
Now that we have a diagnosis, we have been able to seek help. My daughter no longer rips posters off bathroom walls or destroys sinks, though she still loves to ceremoniously adorn her arms with bubbles while washing her hands. I love her neurodiverse brain, how she creates beauty and joy in the mundane. And thank Gaudí she still likes to color outside the lines a bit.
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