Today’s post comes from another parent from the Disney Effect event in San Francisco, where so many families with parallel journeys through the world of Disney coalesced to discuss this unique yet oft-overlooked side of autism. For the last seven years, Janet Lawson and her husband Daniel Swearingen have worked to build out Autistry Studios, a program designed to help those on the autism spectrum “become successfully independent by leveraging their interests and talents while creating a community” (from their website). This month, with a generous grant from Dan Feshbach, another attendee at the Disney Effect event, they are adding a Digital Arts Studio to Autistry. They will be working with professional animators, game designers, and illustrators to provide hands-on experience creating 2D and stop-motion animation. “Our students and our staff are very excited,” Janet tells us.
It all started with Janet and Daniel’s son Ian, whose love of Winnie the Poo, Thomas the Tank, and other animated fare proved just as vital for his growth and development as Disney movies did for Owen. In a post on the Autistry Studios blog, Janet describes how she first entered Ian’s world:
I have often spoken and have written elsewhere about the moment I truly entered the world of my son, Ian. When Ian was very young (2 to 4 years old) he had very little language. However, he could recite entire Disney movies word-for-word – especially Winnie the Pooh. During that period he also did not sleep at night, so my husband, who had to get up early for work, slept in Ian’s racecar-bed and Ian snuggled up with me. One night when Ian was happily reciting lines from The Blustery Day, I jumped in and took the part of Tigger: “The wonderful thing about tiggers, is tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber. Their bottoms are made out of springs!” Ian whipped his head around, looked me right in the eye…and then burst into laughter. With a huge smile he welcomed me into his world.
She goes on to describe numerous other breakthroughs, like how Ian developed an enthusiasm for reading via the closed captions on his favorite films. “By entering and embracing our son’s world, we allowed him to teach us other styles of communication,” writes Janet. “Connecting his imagination to the real world and to other people in his life has created a bridge between his world and ours. We use many of these techniques working with other students and families in our program at Autistry. We hope that together we can build more bridges so other families can cross over as well.”