Photo of young autistic girl in spectrum logo

 

Meet Bella, a seven year old artist and autistic girl. Bella tells us, alongside her mum Inga, who blogs Bella’s journey as an artist, about how she processes the world through her drawings…

*Bella’s answers are her exact responses to the questions, as spoken by Bella.

Black and white illustration of young autistic girl

Bella's character (how she sees herself in her drawings)

 

What made you seek an autism diagnosis for Bella?

Inga: At three and a half years old, Bella’s language was not as developed as her peers. Although she had an average vocabulary of words, she seemed to rely on repetitive speech and learned phrases to communicate her wishes, which we recognised as echolalia after research. Bella also started to struggle with basic daily transitions at home and nursery and seemed very sensitive to certain noises, which was later diagnosed as Auditory Processing Disorder.

What was the process of getting a diagnosis like?

Inga: The diagnostic process was long and frustrating and took about two years. CAMHS rejected Bella’s referral initially and we had to pay for a private speech and language assessment to provide concrete evidence that she had a significant language delay and only then were we granted the NHS referral. At the time, we didn’t know anyone else with autistic children Bella’s age, but fortunately we were given a National Autistic Society leaflet and also some leaflets for local autism support groups. With that information, we were at least able to access some pre-diagnosis workshops and use the National Autistic Society website as a starting point for our research. What we found particularly difficult was the general lack of information on how autism presents in girls. Even only a few years ago, society still seemed to think that autism was a rarity in women and girls.

Bella, what are some of your strengths?

Bella: Jumping, running, PE, climbing trees, drawing.

Black and white drawing of a cartoon monkey in a tree

A monkey hanging from a tree.

 

Do you draw every day?

Bella: Yes, it's my favourite.

Inga, what do you think makes Bella's drawings special?

Bella’s drawings show her personality, interests, quirks and sense of humour. They also illustrate her artistic and technical abilities. One of Bella’s greatest strengths is her visual memory. She is, to the best of our knowledge, a visual thinker and processes her thoughts in pictures, so it is very natural for her to develop all her ideas through drawing. Bella’s journey with drawing is indicative of the developmental phases and emotional struggles she experiences. Bella has really focused periods of drawing when she feels anxious or needs to block out the world for periods of time and sometimes she draws the same pictures repetitively because the familiarity is so comforting; often these drawings are groups of characters that are a similar shape. This can happen during growth or developmental spurts or changes to her environment. On days she’s struggling emotionally or really wants to emphasise strong feelings towards something, Bella may assert herself by drawing the cause of her concern and add a large stop sign over it. She usually then feels calmer and is able to process and verbalise the strong emotions she is experiencing.

Illustration of frogs

Dinosaurs drawn with repetition and uniformity.

 

Through Bella’s drawings, we also realised that she understood far more about the world around her than she ever felt the need to express verbally. The characters she creates are inspired by everything around her from books, TV, toys, friends and family. She thinks creatively to develop details and loves to inject humour into her drawings. We’ve also been able to discuss less obvious social nuances with her via her drawings. Bella is far more open to discussion about different subjects if her drawings are used as a reference as she feels more in control and her anxiety is minimised. Ultimately, drawing brings Bella a lot of peace and satisfaction and helps her to communicate her outlook on life to everyone and it’s something we can all share with her.

What can society do to create a world that works for autistic people?

Bella: Joining in.

Illustration cartoon of a group of people having lunch

 

Bella (ponytail) being served at a cafe with her friends.

 

Inga: Bella loves the concept of “joining in” in situations like play dates and parties and wants to socialise when she’s not feeling anxious. However, the reality is that sensory overload is never far from the surface, so in practice group socialising is rarely ever as easy as the theory if accommodations are not made.

Bella’s Educational Healthcare Plan ensures that accommodations are made for her at school. Outside of school, one very specific thing Bella struggles with is balloons because of their unpredictability, so situations like birthday parties have always been tricky. Social demands, fast transitions, unfamiliar foods, noise and visual stimuli can be a boiling pot for stress and anxiety if your brain processes information at different rates and extremities to all the other guests. However, at a family party recently Bella’s aunt did something as simple as decorate with paper honeycombs instead of balloons and encouraged free play with garden activities, rather than lots of structured party games that require concentration. This instantly reduced Bella’s anxiety and she was able to socialise independently for several hours. Simple changes and advance preparation make a world of difference to Bella being able to join in.

For parents, carers and teachers of autistic children, the emphasis is put on early intervention to help autistic children grow, develop and live within a world built for neurotypical people. It seems appropriate to apply the same logic to the education of society on the subject of autism: early intervention in the form of wide spread autism awareness teaching in all mainstream schools would be such a valuable tool for everyone. It’s also important to realise that personal expectations are only personal expectations and not a gauge by which other people need to measure their own success or lives. Autistic people and their families certainly should not be judged because of other people’s expectations.

Why did you decide to donate 10% of your sales to the National Autistic Society and why do you send out an understanding autism leaflet with every sale?

I wanted to find a way to fundraise and help raise awareness and acceptance for the autistic community that I could fit around family life. The combination of the interest in Bella’s artwork and an audience that I could legitimately send autism awareness information to seemed like a brilliant opportunity that could be built on. From September 2019, we are very excited that Bella will attend a National Autistic Society school, so we are delighted to have an ongoing opportunity with Bellastration to give something back to our community.

 

Autistic people often need extra time to process information, like questions, instructions or emotions. Here are some ways to help.

You can follow Bella’s journey on Facebook and Instagram. 10% of Bellastration website merchandise sales are donated to the National Autistic Society.