Autism: From the Inside – Chapter Sixteen

While I was home-schooling him, Ian had a computer in his bedroom. It was disconnected at night but he had free access to it during the day when he wasn’t in the classroom. He had a limited range of programmes on it, but what he managed with those was nothing short of extraordinary.  

The programme Ian loved most was ‘Paint’, a programme which allowed him to make pictures using squares and circles, which he could move around to create a picture. Changing the sizes of the shapes and filling them in with colour meant Ian could reproduce – recognisably – scenes from some of his favourite DVDs.

It took me a while to realise what he was doing. It was only when I saw his bee picture, and recognised it as a scene from Winnie the Pooh, that I understood what he was up to. When I looked at the film of Winnie the Pooh myself and paused it at the scene Ian had recreated, I was astonished at what he had achieved using only circles and squares.

  This led me to look more closely at all his other pictures as well. If this one was so accurate, perhaps others were too.    

There was a certain amount of guesswork involved because Ian wouldn’t identify where the picture came from, and although his very artistic older brother, Rory, recognised several, we never found out the root of many of them.   Sadly, in the end we had to take Ian’s computer away from him because he seemed fixated on only one picture which he created over and over again. It was a close-up of Thomas O’Malley from The AristoCats, in the scene where the tomcat leaps on the milk wagon and terrifies the driver, so Duchess and her three kittens can get aboard and journey back to their beloved Madame in Paris.

It was only months later that I realised that Ian hadn’t been recreating the same picture, what he had in fact been doing was minutely changing each picture, and recreating the DVD footage, frame by frame. He was creating his own animation, which he could flick through on his computer, one picture after another, replaying the scene for himself!


Aside from the computer – which had been a very successful gift – we struggled every year to find Ian a birthday present he would enjoy because his range of interests was so narrow. Then we had a brain-wave and for his birthday that year, we gave Ian a keyboard.  

At first, he played strange, haunting, other-worldly experimental music. Plinky-plonk tunes that had neither beginning nor end. This kept him busy for quite a while before his interest waned.  

Then he went back to it, but this time spent hours shaping chords. He found three that satisfied him, and he repeated these in a sequence for many weeks. Then his interest waned again.  

When he came back to the keyboard, he seemed to have a purpose. He fiddled with the notes until he could produce a succession of chords. And it was only when I heard the full progression that I realised what he was up to.   The music he had successfully recreated, without training or assistance, was the background music to the opening number in the film, ‘The Lion King’.  

And then, wonder of wonders, one afternoon I heard him playing the chords and very quietly, entirely to himself, he sang over the top –    “From the day we arrive on the planet and, blinking, step into the sun / There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done…”  

I stood outside his bedroom and cried.    The beauty of that moment was so intense, so huge, and simultaneously so frustrating, I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was so perfect I was breathless, but why-oh-why didn’t I have some recording device with me! I knew I might never hear Ian do this again, and this precious moment would be lost forever.  

In his teens, of course, Ian’s voice broke and he could no longer sing all his songs the way he wanted to.  His near-perfect pitch was deeply offended by his ‘new’ voice so he stopped singing completely, which was really, really sad.  

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