Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The art of blending

Red and blue make orange. Yellow and blue make green. Red and blue make purple. I remembered these combinations as I watched Sam draw and noted Sam wasn’t one to blend his colors. This is in part because he already has green, orange and purple crayons and doesn't see the need. It is also because (I think) he likes his colors exactly as they are. Orange sits next to red and blue sits next to green. They may overlap but they don’t blend.

I was taught to blend.  

We blended our voices in glee club; we blended in our navy blue uniforms. Years of Catholic school education taught me it was important to behave similarly. I listened to orchestras blend instruments to create harmonious music. I watched my mother masterfully blend seasonings to create a meal. I live in a country that prides itself on  blending its cultures.  

So what of Sam, the child who simply didn’t blend? My first inclination was to curb the behaviors that made him appear different. 

But Sam with his big rosy cheeks and impossibly bigger hair found it difficult to modify his behavior. After countless hours of ABA therapy, social groups, behavior incentives, and interventions I’ve long forgotten; in spite of Sam’s eagerness to please, he did not blend. I could look out at a pack of kids and pick out Sam in a nanosecond. 

I redoubled my efforts to "suck the autism out of him" without stopping to wonder why it was so necessary. Finally after years of perceived failure, I wondered why it was important; how had it become the focus of our lives? 

I also remembered Sam's reluctance to blend his colors; how he chose color after color, placing them side-by-side, rarely blending just having them co-exist. His seemingly random technique always evolved into a harmonious whole. Though his work was far more abstract, his approach reminded me of the Georges Seurat paintings I'd studied long ago with individual dots of color, each important to the success of the overall image.

Maybe our answer lay in Sam's artwork. I began to think of our family: three very different people who  managed to blend into a family, while retaining individuality – even liking our differences. Together we made a whole. Just like like those colors laid side by side in Sam's drawings: each color critical to the success of the completed whole. 

If we could meld our differences into a family, surely there was a way to extend it to create a community. Sure, Sam needed to work on skills to learn when/how to compromise. His success in a community will always remain contingent on his ability to cooperate; find common ground and peacefully co-exist. But cooperation, diversity and individuality can exist together. 

I like to think Sam might one day be one of the colors in a Seurat painting that fascinated me so many years back. Up close, a bunch of random dots. Step back and the dots create entirely new colors and a beautiful image emerges. That is what I hope for Sam: retaining his individual “color” while blending together into the canvas of a harmoniously diverse community. 

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