I have a brother with autism. His name is Omar, and he is 38 years old, a little younger than me. He lives with my father in San Diego and holds a part time job at a grocery store bagging groceries. He is certainly one of my inspirations for deciding to study psychology and work with persons with autism.
He loves to fly, so he recently traveled with my cousin from San Diego to Dallas for a family wedding. He was staying with the mother of the bride, but she was organizing the wedding and shifted Omar to another cousin to watch him for the Friday before the wedding. I was attending the wedding as well and was in town, so I asked Omar if he wanted to spend some time with us. Our plans on Friday were to go to the Dallas Museum of Art. To my knowledge, Omar has never been to an art museum, unless he went when he was in school. We agreed to take him to lunch, which he very rigidly eats at noon.
We got to the museum around 11:15, leaving us 45 minutes or so to explore before we needed to get him lunch. After locating my favorite artists (modern Mexican artists such as Rivera and Kahlo), we continued to explore. To engage him, we talked about the paintings in general description, and I asked him questions about what he saw (Do you see the big tree in the background? What color is the house?).
Because Omar can read, I pointed out the plates with information next to the art. Omar is a slow reader, so we stopped doing that at each painting after a while. However, on one of the plates, he read "Georgia O'Keefe", and seemed to recognize it. He recognized her name on another plate, and we determined that she was his favorite artist. Because this museum had several O'Keefe's throuout the museum, we would spot them out and let him read the information.
When lunchtime rolled around, we enjoyed a nice lunch in the museum restaurant. A giant mural was on the wall so I pointed out several aspects of the picture, such as busts of JFK, rocket ships, and other things. As Omar loves food, he enjoyed lunch.
After lunch, we explored the museum for another hour. In a section on modern US art, we found more O'Keefe's for Omar to explore, which he seemed to enjoy. He started to seem disengaged after an hour, so we went to the gift shop for a bit then left the museum.
I was really curious to see if Omar would enjoy the museum. Certainly the lunch break was helpful as it broke up the time. It also helped that lunch was pretty good (we all ate fried green tomato BLTs). Also, talking to Omar about the pictures and engaging him to look at the pictures made it more pleasant for him. We asked Omar if he liked the trip, and he said that he did. I'm hopeful that we can take him to another museum and continue to expand his experiences. The next time I visit him in San Diego we will try again and see how it goes.
And so goes the juxtaposition of the autistic and the artistic! Photos will follow soon.