Outside the Lines

Five artists on the autism spectrum express what independence means to them.

Text by Maxfield Sparrow

Outside the Lines

Five artists on the autism spectrum express what independence means to them.

Text by Maxfield Sparrow

Autism is a neurological difference that affects every sphere of an individual's life: learning, communication, relationships, career aspirations, and ultimately, independence.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study that found the prevalence of autism was one in 59 eight-year-olds.

As those children grow older, questions around independence get even more complicated.

National Geographic asked five autistic artists, "What does independence mean to you?"

Tap to hear from a photographer, an animator, a painter, a poet, and a filmmaker.




This story is best experienced with sound on.

There are things that keep me stable, and when I’m stable I can be myself ... So, I consider independence to be stuff that makes me independent from insanity.

Photographs and Voice-over By Anie Knipping

There are things that keep me stable, and when I’m stable I can be myself ... So, I consider independence to be stuff that makes me independent from insanity.

Photographs and Voice-over By Anie Knipping

Being able to be in control of my clothes is absolutely essential, because if I’m wearing anything that bothers me at all, it just takes over my whole ability to think.

Being able to be in control of my clothes is absolutely essential, because if I’m wearing anything that bothers me at all, it just takes over my whole ability to think.

There’s a lot of people that have issues about taking pills, but for me I would not be alive without them.

There’s a lot of people that have issues about taking pills, but for me I would not be alive without them.

Having the space that I sleep in be dim light, and all the colors and plants and stuff to calm my senses down is really crucial to being able to put myself back together.

Having the space that I sleep in be dim light, and all the colors and plants and stuff to calm my senses down is really crucial to being able to put myself back together.

Anie Knipping

Photographer

Anie Knipping

Photographer

Animation by Stephen Storti

Stephen Storti

Animator

Stephen Storti

Animator

Painting and Voice-over by Chelsea Dub

The root system of the (dying) vine entrapping the brain is a visual depiction of the neuroableist construct that restricts the mindsets and capabilities of neurodivergent—including autistic—people.

The root system of the (dying) vine entrapping the brain is a visual depiction of the neuroableist construct that restricts the mindsets and capabilities of neurodivergent—including autistic—people.

The heart signifies passion and compassion—living in accordance to your values, no matter what is thrown at you. It also symbolizes resilience to the harshness of the world.

The heart signifies passion and compassion—living in accordance to your values, no matter what is thrown at you. It also symbolizes resilience to the harshness of the world.

The butterfly is a symbol of hope and transformation, allowing oneself to envision a better life and to evolve as a person ... [It] can also represent any benefactor of understanding and generosity, or society as a whole benefiting as a result of personal growth.

The butterfly is a symbol of hope and transformation, allowing oneself to envision a better life and to evolve as a person ... [It] can also represent any benefactor of understanding and generosity, or society as a whole benefiting as a result of personal growth.

Chelsea Dub

Painter

Chelsea Dub

Painter

Stamp sticks to an envelope

And autism sticks to me

That envelope has an address

Where it is supposed to be,

I, on the other hand

Ponder my destiny ...

Poem by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay
Reading by Nathan Everett Patterson

No doubt autism has its shames

Social and sensory challenges

Should I woe my days

And layer my days with sorrow?


Sorrow can be a choice

An optional stamp to stick

Burden my footsteps down

With its heavy grip.

So I hyper-visualize:

A speck of dust on ground,

See how it wars with wind

Shifts an inch further down,


I battle with my senses

I twirl my way, lag behind,

Then I tell a story to the mirror:


“Once upon a time....

There was a speck of dust

How it twirled with wind ....”

Everyone seeks something

Pursue dreams deep and high,

People love to soar,

Wherever they wish to fly,


I once told a story

To a speck of sand

Of an image behind a mirror

Whose mind I never understand.


And I once told the story

To the mirror about the sand ...”

So the question of independence

Maybe a life long staggering trip

If life is fluid, while others flow

I’m happy to drip, drip, drip.


Mind of a story teller,

With a story as fluid as air,

I am as free as the depth of space

I find my Freedom there.

Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay

Poet

Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay

Poet

Film by Forrest Lotterhos

Forrest Lotterhos

Filmmaker

Forrest Lotterhos

Filmmaker

These expressions not only provide a window into autism and how autistic individuals view the world, but offer insights into the nature of independence itself.

Though some of these artists convey a longing for conventional sources of meaning and autonomy, they also show the validity of less traditional definitions.

Our interconnectedness makes independence a spectrum. There are as many ways to live independently as there are people.

Maxfield Sparrow is an autistic advocate, writer, and speaker. They are the author of The ABCs of Autism Acceptance and editor of the forthcoming anthology Spectrums: Autistic Transgender People in Their Own Words, scheduled to be published in September 2020.

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