When I was in grade school I was always drawing pictures of people, houses, pets, race cars, guns, motorcycles, vans, spaceships, dinosaurs, dragons, skulls, super heroes, ninjas, etc… You name it! Nothing escaped my pencil. I used to carve things out of wood and build models out of paper. I had lots of ideas and inventions I was always drawing, building or writing about something. In class, I often got in trouble for drawing even though the teacher luckily encouraged me by telling me they liked it. It was something I loved to do and even better PEOPLE TOLD ME I WAS GOOD AT IT. In my opinion, people in general, teachers and parents specifically- seriously underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. (as well as the power of negative reinforcement…)
Early on they wanted to put me in LD classes because I had a hard time keeping still and paying attention in class. That lasted for about a week until my mother got wind of it. Luckily she asked them to put me in a regular classroom again. I suppose it was because I was disruptive somehow because of my attention disorder. They said I had a mild chemical imbalance. Knowing what I know now, I figure I could have maybe been slightly autistic or have had mild Asburgers too. I do not think this is uncommon at all. I think a lot of that went undiagnosed, especially back in the 70’s. It is difficult to say even now as it is still difficult to diagnose.
The reason I bring this up is because like many people with autism or asburgers, I was very interested in anomalies I would find in every day life and I saw relationships in things that other’s missed or were simply uninterested in. I was very observant, even as a kid, often to a fault. I wanted to see and touch things that I shouldn’t. My mom used to have to tell me to stop staring at people when I was very little and I often asked very personal questions that put people and my parents on the spot. I was unintentionally inclusive and socially awkward. I didn’t have many close friends growing up in the country in rural Ohio, but I wanted to socialize. It was hard because I grew up where I did and the things I noticed and asked about sometimes made people feel uncomfortable and as a consequence, I was sometimes treated differently or even cruelly. I was very competitive, was super strong and was interested in sports but knew nothing of the rules so I tended to avoid group games because I didn’t know how to play them and I would just seem clumsy, accidentally hurt someone or get in the way of the other kids.
Although squirmy and odd, I was a sweet kid who used to draw flowers and animals for my teachers, got decent grades and was a pretty good student for the most part- right up till the 4th grade. In 4th grade, my ADD or whatever made the teacher so uncomfortable that she put me in a corner and had a refrigerator box put around my desk so that I would not distract the rest of the class. She called it my office. This was a horrible thing to do to a child for many reasons, but at the time I didn’t think it was so bad sometimes. It gave me my own space to think and draw and get lost in my imagination. If I got bored in class I had the opportunity to look out the window or zone out on some project or another on my own and this kept me quiet and content for the most part for the rest of the school year. I had to see a school psychiatrist and I remember it being a very long, sad year for me. The box wasn’t helpful to me socially at all and I lost all interest in trying to be a good student.
I realize that (besides the “office”) most of this seems pretty common. It is. For me at the time it wasn’t of course. This was my perspective at the time. I thought I was different. People of influence encouraged my intellectual abilities, but I learned to keep those talents hidden as they were not helpful socially. This inclusiveness gave me the ability to see things objectively. I was an outsider, an observer. So I learned to enjoy playing quietly by myself and letting my imagination be my best friend, reading picture books to myself, learning about nature, observing and contemplating things in their natural state, noticing forms, textures, anatomy, positive and negative space, tangents, the color of lighting and the tones and shapes that shadows make at different times of the day, where they fall and how colors complimented one another. This further reinforced my relationship with my observational skills, imagination and creative abilities and has had an absolutely positive influence on the creative person I am today. These were the unintentional every day thoughts and influences on me as a young artist. …I think being hired to draw funny pictures of strangers at parties is about the most natural thing I could possibly do for a living!
Copyright Adam Pate, 2013