Autism, Asperger’s Syndrom and Childhood Mental Health

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report Thursday regarding the rise of autism. One of the more shocking stats of the report is that the condition has spiked nearly 80 percent in the last ten years.

Mental and emotional disorders in children have been of interest to me since I worked in Colorado at a school for ‘educationally handicapped’ children. I was their bus driver at the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperatives services in Colorado Springs. So, as an untrained 23-year-old artist, I didn’t understand their challenges, nor did I understand why some of them were enrolled in the school since a few seemed so ‘normal’. After driving the students around for a very short time, I went to the director of the school and told him that I didn’t understand why certain students were there. He simply replied, ‘Stick around a while, you’ll see.’

I drove the bus, and eventually taught art classes for nearly a year. It eventually became clear that they all had some sort of behavioral disorder, but so did many of the ‘normal’ students I would encounter.

When I returned to California several years later, I taught art classes at a school in the Los Angeles area for young people with similar learning challenges. One of the things that struck me is how differently the students at the schools behaved as a group. The children in Colorado were tight-knit and would not allow their classmates to abuse one another. Also, if someone outside the group insulted one of their own, they would ban together and defend their classmate. For example; there was a warehouse across the street from the school that sold car and truck batteries. The building was made of corrugated metal. One day an employee hurled an insult at a student, making fun of their disability. Some other students heard it and began to hurl rocks at the building. I was inside the school with other staff and teachers when we heard what sounded like machine gun fire. We all ran outside and saw the students throwing rocks. The director stopped them and asked what happened. When they told him, he said, “Oh, go ahead,” then stood back for a few satisfying moments to watch the action.

The school in California was almost the exact opposite. There was constant infighting, not much support from the administration and as a result, mostly baby sitting and little learning. I stayed for only a few months then moved on.

I’ve painted on many street corners in cities across the United States and in several cities around the world; mostly in the inner city. I frequently meet people with some type of mental disorder, but seldom talked to any who did not have a deep appreciation for the arts. The photos on this page were shot near Los Angeles. Noe, the star of the audio, gave me permission to use this. I hope, after seeing this, you will appreciate even more the gifts you have and especially those with special gifts whom society has brushed aside.

Update

She Can See has been updated. This is a major revision. You will soon discover how asperger’s syndrom, a form of autism, plays a central roll in one of our characters. Maybe you’ve already guessed who.

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