Temporary or Permenant? Behind the Scenes of an Autistic Artist

tylers-drawing-at-steves-poolWhen Tyler was old enough to hold a pen, he began to draw on things like the kitchen counter, or the vinyl flooring. Just scribbles emerged, really. He watched all the children’s programming on the local PBS station. So, pretty early, the scribbles became letters and numbers as well as distinct shapes and lines.

We decided that since he liked to draw so much that it would be great to get a giant white board. We did! It fit on the floor of the entrance way to the living room. There were big windows there, and almost no furniture. And, of course, what goes with white boards? Yup! Dry Erase Markers. We got him a package of all the colors they came in. And this was what he spent most of his time doing for hours on in, day after day. When we moved to Georgia he was almost 3 years old. He seemed to like drawing as much as before. But more often than not his drawings ended up off the white board and on other places.

One Saturday afternoon, we were in the living room watching a movie. We had left Tyler in his room watching Beauty and the Beast (his favorite movie of all time!) We paused the movie and I got up to get a drink. I walked into the kitchen and I was shocked at what I saw… GIANT LETTERS and NUMBERS written all over EVERYTHING. The counter tops, the wallpaper, the wooden cabinets, the wooden stools, the vinyl floor…EVERYWHERE Tyler could reach – including the cabinets and walls above the counters. Which meant he had to have climbed up on the counters to reach them that high. WOW.

I took his little hand, which was now stained black mostly, and retrieved the black dry-erase marker he was still holding. I made a small attempt to “erase” the markings on the counter in front of me with my other hand. That’s when I realized:  Dry erase marker does not just wipe off these other surfaces like it does on a white board.

I started crying, “This cannot be happening. Kids can’t do this kind of damage. We RENT this house. OMG!!!”… were just a few thoughts that flew around in my head.  I won’t mention others that shall not be repeated here. I called my husband in to see the devastation. What was his reaction? He started laughing! Not just laughing, but laughing hysterically. In today’s terms, “ROTFLMAO” kind of laughing. OK?! About that moment, Tyler’s oldest sister had not ever heard her Mom & Dad in this crazy emotional mode and came in to see what was happening. She looked up, and gasped at the sight. Then she proclaimed loudly, “Oh My God, Tyler, you are in So Much Trouble!”

Well, after the emotions had run dry, there was a dead silence, except for the background noise of the Beauty and the Beast movie. Tyler was back in his room watching it. We proceeded to spend the entire rest of the weekend using paint thinner and a scrub brush getting what we could off.

Honestly, as hard as we tried, it never completely came off the wooden cabinets and the wall paper. One could easily see the faint imprint of large dark letters and numbers for YEARS after, as well as the lingering odor of paint thinner.

Needless to say, we threw away all the dry erase markers in the house. But one day, Tyler sneakily stole away with his little sister’s magic markers that were on her desk in her room. He made a “mural” on the largest empty wall in his room. Upon discovery, we actually thought it was quite interesting. That day, something magical happened… our creative minds took over.  “It almost looks like there is a face in the middle.”  I think we under-reacted, for lack of a better word.  Funny how your perspective changes after events like that. But we did start hiding THOSE markers from him.

We did consider putting up white board walls in this room, but the fear that dry erase markings would find their way onto other surfaces in the house terrified us. We thought about chalkboard paint on the walls too, but we quickly remembered he ate chalk. So that wasn’t a solution either.

However, we did allow him to write with side-walk chalk out side. He loved that and it seemed harmless. Because it was outside, eating sticks was more appealing to him than eating the chalk, I think. Who knows. Until one afternoon, we went to check on Tyler playing outside. He had taken the sidewalk chalk and had written HUGE letters and numbers all over the back siding of the actual house! Guess what?! Sidewalk chalk doesn’t come off that type of siding. We just left it there. At least it wasn’t black, nor was it in the kitchen. Ok. We can deal with it. When we moved to our new house we had built, we told our land lord to keep the deposit.

In the new house, Tyler was about age 9 years old. He always sat at the table and drew on notebook paper. School had since taught him correct marker usage skills. (We had made that an IEP goal after the incident with the dry erase markers in the kitchen years earlier.) So it was ok. The drawings had turned into cute people-like figures with round bodies and big ears. But he would always tear them up and throw them all away when he was done. Our oldest son actually snagged a few from time to time when Tyler wasn’t paying attention and saved them. (a collection that got packed away, but one that I hope to find one day, so I can share the cuteness here.)

Around age 11, he advanced from the cute people drawings to street signs of stores and restaurants. These seemed to be maps with roads and such. Amazingly, the street and restaurant signs were much like the real ones. He also began writing numbers really fast like a counter would, but all on top of each other. Very interesting to watch, but the paper ended up looking like a bunch of jumbled up scribbles…which he tore.

Eventually, at about age 16, he wasn’t interested in drawing or writing as much on anything. But we have found that he will still do that if you take a notebook with paper and a pen or marker to a place like church, or a concert, where he must sit and stay still and quiet.

We bought Tyler many Magna-Doodle Boards along the way too. He did well with those, but he would press so hard on them, they would have deep lines in them. That interest, too, faded.

But all is not lost.  Tyler still manages to surprise us with his talent from time to time. The attached picture is of 24 year-old Tyler taken Sept. 2016.  My brother, Steve Hart,posted it on his Facebook page and wrote:

“This is my Nephew Tyler Stoddart. Each weekday, weather permitting, Tyler and his mother, Vicki Stoddart (My little sister), come over so Tyler can swim and jump up and down. Before I go any further, let me say that Tyler is 24 years old, and severely autistic. Today, I asked his mother if I could give him some sidewalk chalk so he could draw. She was reluctant as Tyler usually reacts by breaking the chalk, eating it, or doing something else we haven’t thought of yet. Today, HE DREW A PICTURE!!! on the poolside concrete! That may not sound like a big deal to some, but to us, it is significant. Today he was happy, energetic, and enjoying life. My sister and hubby, don’t get many days like today, but this day the stars are aligned, so I am posting pictures of his art and his smile. He is a precious innocent, and I can’t help but love him.”

What I wish to convey about all of this is:

  • Dry-erase markers can be permanent on some surfaces in your home: BE AWARE!
  • Sidewalk chalk can become permanent on certain house sidings.
  • Keep a sample of all the drawings and writings you can along the way. You never know when a certain artistic style becomes a past art.
  • Invest in dozens of Magna-Doodle boards. They are consumable to the heavy-handed artist, but the tied down pen is a “stay on the board” solution for the detachable marker adventurers.
  • Your spouse may react completely the opposite than you in any given situation. and it’s OK. It’s what makes the world go round behind the scenes of an Autistic Artist.
  • Give them every opportunity to express their artistic talents.  When the stars are aligned, post pictures of the art and the smile.
  • Remember, the formula for humor:
    Humor (H), Time (Tm), Tragic Event (TE), Multiplier (M)
    H = (M * Tm + TE)/M
    Interpretation in English:  The further in time you get from a tragic event the funnier it becomes.
This entry was posted in Autism, Life Lessons, Special Children. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Temporary or Permenant? Behind the Scenes of an Autistic Artist

  1. Very good story! You have the patience of Job, (the biblical dude) and the perseverance that many mothers could never match!


    • vjstoddart says:

      When i was writing it, it was almost like it was a story about another family. Still don’t know how my past self had the patience I did. The love for my child strengthened my resolve to get through it.


  2. Pingback: The Last Time: A Glimpse Into Our Secret World | Autism Bubble

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