“…while it might seem that my son is in his own world, he is actually in two worlds, theirs and his, aware, conscious, and observant of both simultaneously.”
by Erik Raschke and K. Kristiaan (instagram.com/K.Kristiaan)
My ten year-old son cannot read, nor write, nor count higher than five. But what I have always understood and what has become apparent through my son’s photography, is that he is not only aware, but constantly absorbing the world around him and that his expressive strength comes not from words or drawings, but from taking photos or video and playing it back later, studying it endlessly. While walking the dog or returning from the grocery store, he might be stumbling along, twenty feet behind, talking to himself, seemingly lost to an imaginary conversation, but, in fact, he is actively recording the world around him in ways that we cannot entirely understand.
We know and have known for some time that communication is essential for children and teenagers, especially since autism is a disability of communication. When a child cannot express his or herself, they become trapped in their own mind, leading to depression and frustration. Thankfully, my son has discovered video and film and through this expression he has found like-minded people who give him “likes” on his Instagram account or see his work and congratulate him personally. Speaking might be difficult, but art has given him not only a way to express himself, but to connect with the world at large.
The following videos were made over the cold, dark winter months in Amsterdam. Because my son cannot go outside by himself, most weekends, he spends a good deal of time indoors. Using the slow-motion function on an Iphone, he records his world and watches it back at a pace that he can understand. He often deletes many of the films, but always leaves a couple for me to watch at the end of the day. Watch them like he watches them, not for the action, but for the minutiae, the shimmering of the orange water, his brother’s black cap moving through the forest dusk. He films all these on his own. He comes up with the ideas. These are a few. The rest you can see at his Instagram account: instagram.com/K.Kristiaan
We saw a video on Martha Stewart on how to make a snow-globe. My son said that his friends needed to have fun. So I helped him find a jar and glitter. He then put his doll Watty, her dog, and several friends into what he called a “disco.” He then filmed it with my phone.
Glitter and Gold Disco –
Since I don’t let my children watch much television or play on Ipads, it is often a challenge to keep them occupied. It is especially challenging with my autistic son because he cannot read and his dyspraxia leaves him often distracted. But this winter, he began filming his doll and best friend, Watty, in a variety of places, including the kitchen sink. This happens to be in a bowl with leftover orange Jello-O and water. The end effect was quite beautiful.
Watty Swimming in Orange
Ever since he was a child and I took him to Chuckie Cheese years ago, he has been terrified as well as fascinated by animatronics. So when he begged me to take him back to see the Jordan Wolfson exhibit at the Stedelijk museum just so he could film it in slo-mo with his doll, Watty, I was surprised. I think, somewhere in his subconscious, and because he has always struggled with fine motor skills, he connects emotionally with the jerky movements and robotic behavior of animatronics. Not only that, but this girl is dragged by chains and I know that on his less lucid days, when we have a lot of errands to run, he feels similarly chained/dragged/pulled.
What I love about this film is that, around the 2-minute mark, my son begins to move his doll Watty in a similar motion with Wolfson’s animatronic sculpture, so that his Playmobil doll is almost imitating art. While the first two minutes accurately portray how my son feels about his own body, you can skip to minute 2 to see how my son’s doll Watty, his alter-ego, reacts almost as if she is the one watching the exhibition.
Jordan Wolfson and Watty –
A way my son stims is to endlessly drop a doll, whether it be from the kitchen counter or the arm-rest in the car, onto the floor. It can drive a parent crazy, but it does relax him. One day, at a garage sale, my son found this child’s cash register and it has become a way for not only to stim, but to create elaborate stories about his doll Watty, and her baby brothers, to fall into caves or haunted houses, only to come sliding out the “magic portal.” This was filmed one snowy day and I loved how the snowflakes drifted at the same pace as the figures.
Winter Cash Register –
This was one of the first slow-motion films he ever made. There are several boys on our block who have bullied my son in the past. The worst part is that he cannot point out who exactly the boys are. When I ask him who has taken his ball or pushed him off his bike, his words trip over themselves and he often just winds up breaking down into sobs.
In this film, my son is trailing behind me when a neighborhood boy steps out of his apartment. I have no idea whether this boy is one of the bullies, most likely not, but the look he gives my son, who was, as usual, walking unevenly, mumbling to himself, in deep in conversation with himself, is how kids often look at him. I only wish they knew what I knew: that while it might seem that my son is in his own world, he is actually in two worlds, theirs and his, aware, conscious, and observant of both simultaneously.
K. Kristiaan was diagnosed with Classic Autism at the age of 2. He is both an American and Dutch citizen. You can visit him on Instagram at K.Kristiaan or find him selling his photos with his younger brother in Amsterdam. Erik Raschke is a writer based in Amsterdam. He is the author of The Book of Samuel: A Novel. You can read more about K.Kristiaan in this Atlantic article – The Unmanufactured Impact of a Plastic Best Friend.