BY MICHAEL LUONG: For Complete Post, Click Here…
In observance of Autism Acceptance Month, we asked four illustrators on the autism spectrum to create a self-portrait of themselves. We asked one simple question: As a creative on the autism spectrum, what’s something you would like others to know?
Becoming a professional artist is the direct result of discovering that I am autistic. For the majority of my adult life, I created art but I never fully allowed myself to pursue it as a lifelong path. Over the last two years, I have worked to understand myself as an autistic person, and I have allowed myself to meet my needs, to discover my motivations, and to fully, for the first time in my life, be my absolute self. The more I focused on accommodating and understanding myself, the more interested and motivated I was to create art. My work is a visual representation of my self-discovery, as most of my art making as an adult has been in the unmasking and relearning I have been doing.
Being a creative on the autism spectrum has been both challenging and fulfilling. One of the challenges I face is related to communication and how my communication style is viewed or perceived. This can sometimes translate into seeming unprofessional, since I speak and move differently than other adults around me. In the past, I would have to mask the way I communicated, which led to confusion and misunderstandings for me. This communication style difference can really impact work opportunities, and it can also be tiring to communicate in a way that is more understandable to others. I can struggle with the social aspects of work, and I feel misunderstood when I do not want to participate in certain social events, like work parties and group activities. I hope for people to see that I seek connection in different ways, and find fulfillment differently than others. I would love for it to become more normalized to have different social desires and verbal expressions.
One of the most fulfilling parts of being a creative on the spectrum is the ability to engage with my special interest on a professional level. Engaging in my passion is incredibly stimulating to me and is healthy for autistic people to do. I feel lucky to be able to do that, and I enjoy the challenges that come with being an artist. I also enjoy having my artwork speak for me, allowing me to communicate with people viewing my artwork, even when I’m not there with them.
I feel that the self-portrait I created embodies my autistic experience. What I would like people to understand from my self-portrait is that I am both a reflection and a reaction to my environment. I am both in tune and bothered by my surroundings, and I can be in awe of what I’m seeing, smelling, touching, but also be in pain from those very experiences. I am always examining what I am seeing and feeling. This, to me, is an act of play, which is essential to my process both as an artist and an autistic person. It’s hard to describe, but interacting with my environment feels natural and inescapable. I feel as though I don’t just react with my thoughts or with language, but I react with my entire body. Beautiful sounds make me wave my hands, and crunching the snow makes my ears happy. I am in constant communication with my environment, responding with my body to the things I am feeling. Like many autistic people, I have comorbidities, including ADHD and synesthesia. All of these conditions are called neurodivergencies, and they contribute directly to the way I process the world. They play off each other and provide a unique sensory experience and expression for me. In the portrait, this feeling is evident in the way that the colors and subjects interact with each other seamlessly. The colors are vibrant, the details are heavy, the atmosphere is vast, and I am immersed in this world.
I have always let my imagination guide me, as I see my experiences and surroundings as stories. It’s a type of daydream that I can’t snap out of, and for a long time, I tried to hide from that. This self-portrait is a celebration of my process and the world I live in.