Today I have the pleasure of introducing Laura Beth King. Laura is a military spouse and stay-at-home mom to two amazing autistic boys, Zane and Zeke. She spends much of her time with them, learning and exploring the world. She uses crochet as a tool during their therapy and also to connect with them. She also loves to bake, read, and play piano, which her sons also enjoy. You can find Laura on Instagram: @lost_boys_crochet.
I first met Laura while pattern testing together and more recently, she has tested my #TunisianSimpleCableCardigan over the last few months. In the tester chat, she has shared several pictures of the unfinished cardigan being confiscated by her sons.
Laura, first of all, what exactly is autism? “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder in which the individual’s brain is wired differently. As this is the case, they perceive the world differently than others.”
What I find interesting here is that in the genetics class I teach, we discuss “normal” genes and mutations. I always tell my students we describe genes as wild type (functional) genes versus mutant genes and we are all a mixture of wild type and mutant – nobody is normal! For example, are you fair haired? You are a pigment – mutant… So to perceive the world differently than what is typically considered mainstream is quite normal, in my opinion!
“While someone can be fully social and do well in crowds, they can have trouble with auditory processing, another can be the complete opposite”
The way autism is perceived has been changing lately; a mainstream view of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autistic people is generally based on popular media, starting with the movie Rainman and more recently going to the more popular (Netflix series) Atypical and The Good Doctor (ABC). Laura tells me, “These views show individuals who are savants as well, and have the same characteristics of not handling loud noises, being touched, self-harming, etc. Even more recently was the moment with (popstar) Sia where she chose to cast an actor for her newest film who did not have ASD to portray Autism because she claimed that it was too difficult to work with an autistic person. The actor who did get the role admitted to getting ready for the part by watching hours of autistic people having meltdowns, which is seriously messed up (read more about this here).
Because of these perceptions, many autistic people are told that they don’t look like they have Autism or are asked to do amazing mathematical or scientific feats. It is a full spectrum, and only part is really represented in the media.”
Lack of representation in media has been a major topic of discussion for BIPOC communities, and Autistic people are similarly underrepresented. Even when there is an Autistic character in a show or movie, it’s not uncommon for a neurotypical actor to be cast in the role. This made me wonder what Laura thinks of how people perceive people with ASD
“Both boys love helping me frog, so I have to watch them around WIPs”
“Because of the stereotyping, most people don’t understand it, at all. ASD is best represented as a color wheel. While someone can be fully social and do well in crowds, they can have trouble with auditory processing where they only hear parts of what is said of trouble with executive function. Another person can be the complete opposite. There are so many different facets that meeting one person with ASD or viewing one show with a character with ASD, does not prepare them for others on the spectrum. Most people also don’t realize that there are individuals on the spectrum who are non-speaking while others take every word said as absolute truth. Without Zane’s device, and if there is no one around to understand American Sign Language (ASL), he cannot communicate. There are different triggers, different ways of handling those triggers, and Zane can help communicate his needs, but someone has to take the time to know and understand. Whereas Zeke is also considered non-speaking, even with all of his words, because he does what is called echolalia. He feels compelled to echo back words or phrases that he has heard, but rarely uses those words appropriately to communicate. For many, this can be unsettling. And it is that perception that they are odd or other that worries me. It ostracizes them, and what they really need is others who are persistent in helping them. We as a society often push those who are other to the fringes. When we don’t understand something, society has a tendency to bully it, or worse. There are still several groups that are trying to find a cure, when autistic people and people who love autistic people have said numerous times that there is nothing wrong and no cure is needed. It is easy for those without voices to not be heard and to fall into the cracks of a system that was never truly meant to support them.”
“When we don’t understand something, society has a tendency to bully it, or worse”
How can the fiber arts help build a bridge between autistic people and neurotypical people? “Some of the ways that fiber arts can build a bridge is accepting others who are different, such as the quirky coworker or the odd person in the group. But, other ways, more interesting ways, would include things like Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos or makes that appeal in a sensory way. An example of this would be Shirsty Cat (https://www.shirstycat.com/), an indie dyer, who does ASMR videos when she dyes her yarn. Zane in particular loves watching them (his favorite so far was the video when she dyed up The Void Stares Back). Or there are some ASMR videos for knitting and crocheting.”
“The focus of the ASMR videos is to take away the noise and give something visually appealing to help calm down. For example, Shirty Cat’s videos simply show the yarn and the colors being poured over it. There is music in the background, but it is barely audible. The focus is on the yarn and colors. The crochet (IG handle @prosperityroom) ones focus on the texture of the pattern being made, texture of the yarn, and the person doing the video whispers the entire time. For knitting ones, you really just hear the needles clicking as they knit. Those usually have no talking in them as the needles already make a sound.”
How do your boys influence the pattern testing that you do? How do they contribute? “More often than not, I look for patterns that will appeal to them in some way. Top down garments with no seams, pieces with cool textural elements, or ones with colorways are more appealing to them, and to me. Zane will often sit next to me and hold the hook to help me crochet. They also love watching me wind up the yarn. The only problem being that they will also grab the swift in the process, Zeke especially. Both boys love helping me frog, so I have to watch them around WIPs. There have been a few times that they have taken part of my project apart, and I find them on the floor with yarn on their heads cackling maniacally as they continue to frog my piece. I also let them help me pick out colors for my projects.”
“Autistic people are people. They may think differently or act differently, but it doesn’t make them lesser”
TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Autistic people are people. They may think differently or act differently, but it doesn’t make them lesser. There is so much to learn, so much happiness and wonder, but only if you take the time to know them. So many times when I (Laura) say that the boys are autistic, people will tell me about someone that they know, but more often than not, it is someone that they know of but haven’t taken the time to get to know. Take the time to see them, to know them, to experience things with them. Autistic people can make the most mundane things something spectacular. There is so much beauty and joy that can be found and learned through autistic people. There are moments that are just so awe inspiring, and it is in those seemingly normal moments when the most amazing things truly happen.
“Autistic people can make the most mundane things something spectacular”
All in all what have I learned about autistic people is applicable to everyone:
- Take the time to get to know a person
- Never judge someone based on media portrayals: don’t say “you don’t look like you are _____.”
- Yarn soothes – and I need to look up those ASMR videos of yarn being dyed and knits being made, and we all need to admire more crochet texture!