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closer and closer

March 28, 2009

When we first met Juan there were a few remarkable things. Profoundly autistic, he had decided to stop talking as a teenager. This got lots of negative reactions from those around him. When challenged, he would become sort of furtive and guilty looking, as if he’d done something wrong. Increasingly, he would wander off, get caught up in his own world and people would become alarmed as he seemed to be looking at them, or into their windows, or he was found in places where it was odd to be lingering and not responding to people. The police would be called; they’d ask him what he was doing. Initially he’d simply not answer, later when he saw them coming, he’d run.  Things went from bad to worse.

Hi family had been able to access no supports because early IQ tests indicated that Juan was out of the range that the government supported. He’d been sent instead to job centres, which had in turn rejected him.  Like many families of kids transitioning to adult services, all their connections had been with the school system, from which he’d graduated, and all the people who had known him had moved on, leaving he and his family alone and uncertain of what to do. The family was exhausted. Juan’s only real activity was repeatedly drawing the same cityscape in the faintest of pencil lines, with mathematical perfection. It was a scene he could see from his bedroom window, where he spent a lot of time, rocking back and forth.

Through funds accessed from gaming we were able to provide at least enough staff to involve him in small group day services activities. We connected his family with a local network of ESL families and the group facilitator began the arduous process of advocating for some funding for him. The family was re-energised by the hope of simply spending an evening away once a month and connecting with other families in similar states.

For a year, Juan continued looking furtive and guilty and, when he could, would draw his city scene. But the pencil lines got  slowly darker. Little flecks of color began to appear – a smudge of green, a wash of blue in the sky, a hint of yellow: somewhere the sun shone.

A creative and inspiring staff member took a particular interest in Juan and his family and got to know them. Juan started being included in other activities, giving them more time to rest up.   He began drawing things he saw from his window in more detail – complex ethereal buildings that were perfect renderings and yet seemed from another world. Cityscapes turned into closer visions: the houses around him.

The staff encouraged Juan to experiment with other visions and there was a need for drawings of fire escape plans, so Juan suddenly had a small job. At about the same time, another fellow in the same program began a behavioural program that required the staff to document various things: Juan noticed. He began making matrixes of numbers and shapes and colours, mapping out his own vision of how another person moved from where they were to a place more centered and connected and increasing less self-abusive. The new drawings were entered into a contest and the staff sought and received funding to frame a number of Juan’s art works. Juan no longer was always looking down, furtively, guiltily, but would look up and smile.

His staff got him a camera and he began taking photographs, but the photographs were of tiny objects framed by the city or by aspects of the new environments he found himself in. At a picnic he would position a tiny rock and a twig and photograph the his picnic friends as if they were ant-sized in a world of giants.   He smiled and laughed and, with some support, will now proudly show off the framed drawings which we all enjoy so much.

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