Raising a creative genius on the autism spectrum

Donald with his son Colin

The main challenge I faced as parent of an adult on the spectrum faces was how to direct Colin’s remarkable talents and passions into a fulfilled, meaningful and impactful life.

By Donald Cohen

My son, Colin, blows me away every day. He is 28 years old and was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a young age – when the relatively unknown Asperger’s was still stuck in a cul de sac of uncertainty. Now, Asperger’s is everywhere – on mainstream TV, in movies, comic books and scores of blogs and websites.

We spent Colin’s early years wondering, searching, trying to understand what it meant and what to do. I no longer think about that. I focus now on what I can do to expose his creative genius to the world.

Colin is a story teller – a really good one. He conjures up entire worlds, vivid mental images, clever plots and complex characters in remarkable detail, sometimes developing storylines, chapters, book sequels over long periods of years. Colin is a talented writer whose words dance off the page but for the most part, his stories are all in his head and it stays there with remarkable recall.

There was a moment when it became crystal clear to me just how remarkable his Aspie brain was. It was middle school Spring Break on a father-son trip to the Grand Canyon. Driving across the Arizona desert, I probed Colin on his then multi-chapter novel work in progress, Dimension Wars. He told me there were 20 (or so) chapters so I asked him to tell me in random order what was in each chapter. I’d ask about Chapter 3 and he would describe it. I’d then ask about Chapter 11 and he’d describe it. And so it went for a good long while. Immediate recall ; no hesitation. And he’s still working on the story, never having written it down but still knows the whole story – chapter and verse.

And this is only one of the many stories he’s creating at the same time. At one point we created a list of 38 stories that Colin had in his head – some short and others multi-chapter tomes. Fast forward past high school diploma, past college diploma and the stories kept coming.

I came to another revelatory recognition of the his remarkable mind just a few months ago (15 years later) as he described the group Role Playing Game he leads. H he plays 500 characters while the others in the game play one or two. He can tell you about each of the 500 characters without referring to notes.”

The main challenge I faced as parent of an adult on the spectrum faces was how to direct Colin’s remarkable talents and passions into a fulfilled, meaningful and impactful life. In his case, that meant getting him to get those stories out of his head and on to “paper” (aka computer.)

That’s what we did. We hired a writing coach, helped Colin create a website (www.fishandcherries.com) for his stories, movie and book reviews, flash fiction and random musings and created a daily writing schedule. He wrote and he wrote a lot.

His head is still far too fast for his fingers – his stories are building up in his head faster than he can get them down. He struggles to keep focused and has faced the typical ups and downs of all writers. He is torn between wanting to work on his epic novels, movie reviews, comic books, and articles about topics that can make a difference in the world. There just never seems enough time. In some ways it’s a good challenge to have – too much to say, rather than not enough.

I play the role of the coach, organizer and teacher. But he does the hard work of writing and creating new ideas. We work every day learning techniques about how to keep organized, focused and more productive. It’s a joy to watch. He regularly writes for other websites – comic and book reviews for Fanbase, articles about autistic people on the Art of Autism and occasional articles for other culture focused sites.

It gets even better. Last month, Colin published his first children’s book, The Fire Truck Who Got Lost. He wrote the text and recruited his talented friend Amber to do the illustrations. With the funds he raised in a crowdfunding campaign, we hired a graphic artist to create the book.

Fire Truck Who Got Lost
The Fire Truck Who Got Lost is a charming story about a firetruck named Barnabus that is already making small children and toddlers smile. You can find it on Amazon or on the Art of Autism Online Store.

Colin is energized by the recognition and is now playing a leading role in a new effort called the Autism Creatives Collective in the Bay Area. It turns out there are “creatives” on the autistic spectrum who are looking for the chance to share their talents with the world.

It’s just the beginning. Colin has a comic book in final writing stages, 9 chapters of a novel already written , three volumes of a fan fiction series mapped out and a radio drama in development.

My job continues – supporting and encouraging but also playing the role of the agent looking for opportunities for Colin’s words and impacts to spread far and wide. It’s the best job I can think of and there’s no joy greater than that of a parent watching his Aspie son reach new heights every day. Watch out world – Colin’s coming!

Donald and Colin

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Donald is the parent of an adult child with Aspergers. He is the executive director of a national research and policy center, In the Public Interest, and a frequent writer and contributor to online and print publications across the country. He is also a Board Member on the Art of Autism.

Other blogs you may like by Colin Elrod-Cohen:

How Satoshi Tajiris autism helped create Pokemon
6 Creatives on the Autism Spectrum: Actors and Filmmakers
Historical figures who may have been on the Autism Spectrum

1 Comment

  • As a parent on the spectrum with a son on the spectrum I struggle daily with the very things you discuss, though my son is still in high school. How to scaffold HIS efforts so that HE can soar? Sounds like some of the things you do might be beyond our means (hiring a coach), but perhaps I can start saving now! Your son sounds absolutely wonderful and talented and you’ve done a great job helping him help himself to shine.
    Thanks and love,
    Full Spectrum Mama

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