Diana Anpimiadi, 34, Tbilisi
„No book that I’ve ever written had a reason and a purpose as specific as the one I would like to talk about now.
My book is a collection of drawings and fairy-tales. The illustrations are by my 6-year-old son Giorgi, with autistic spectrum disorder, interesting vision and beautiful eyes. His drawings were brought to life by his mother, that is, me.
I am well informed of this diagnosis. I am an actively involved parent. Together with Giorgi’s father, our family members and the therapist, we work hard to overcome this problem. That is to say, I am no stranger to autism and I am supposed to be more outspoken about it than other people who might be worried about what neighbors or relatives will say. Yet, I have almost never talked about this diagnosis.
Since Giorgi’s birth, I have spoken about him non-stop. He’s had such a great impact on me that I have not yet digested and normalized his existence. I talk about him in my poems, articles, on Facebook, in private conversations. I must have annoyed a lot of people. Yet, I have never stated the name of our problem out loud. I’m not sure why. Maybe I am still afraid of what other people might do or say.
So I came up with this book. I want to send a message to all the parents who are frightened of having a child, who is special.
You may ask what message I’m trying to send through this book. I wanted to say that communication and language do not have to be verbal, and people do not need to speak in order to reach out to one another. What matters is to find a way of connecting with your child or any other person. You don’t really have to be using a sign-system or a known language.
Gio has a friend mannequin in a shop. That’s right, a regular child mannequin made of plaster who he visits every week, shows his new toys, hugs, and talks to even though he will never receive an answer from it. That’s why I think all you need is talk, put the message out there and it does not matter what form the answer will take.
The moment I overcame with my fear and relaxed, when I stopped self-accusation and embraced my son’s problem, Giorgi’s treatment started to show amazing results, his speech developed at a rapid pace and many more problems solved themselves.
When I post stories about Giorgi on Facebook, I get comments like “a genius kid”, “a special kid”, “the most talented” – this is a problem too. I realized that for some time I was stroking my ego, telling myself “so what if he is not like others, he is better than them”. Now I am past that stage and, instead, I think he is who he is – a nice boy, smart, quirky, interesting, openhearted, childish, with dark eyes, fixations, tiny nose and the condition of autistic spectrum disorder. He is better than I am at some things, such as Math, but he struggles with other things, such as tying shoelaces.
I guess I felt the urge of telling you about him because he is going to school this year – a completely new step in his life. I am looking for a school for Giorgi, and even though, living in Tbilisi, I have a larger choice of schools and have information about inclusive education, and actually know a few good private schools, this issue needs to be dealt with due care. Schools are still not ready to accept Giorgi and other children like him. Even if autism with Giorgi does not demonstrate itself to cause problems to others, I can still see doubt, hesitation, and cautiousness on the part of school authorities. I can only imagine what other parents living in small towns or villages go through, with a far more limited choice and a far more difficult dilemma.
Two facts overlapped – Giorgi’s condition and I, his mother, who can write about it and, probably, has more opportunities to reach out to public, I mean literature, a few important electronic or printed platforms that I have access to. I think this was not a coincidence and it is very good.
It is time to turn this mythicized and dangerous sounding word “autism” into an easily understandable term for everyone. Many other parents and organizations work at it and it is very important. Autistic spectrum is so diverse that attaching any stigma to it is wrong. There are no two similar cases. Rather, there is an amazing variety in the children’s interests, forms of behavior, passions and fixations, therefore it is impossible to define autism in just three words.
You cannot say that two writers will necessarily have identical traits or any two musicians prefer the same type of cake, can you? The same goes for autism. There certainly are rules, common signs of the condition but each case is unique and everyone, including schoolteachers have to adapt their methodology or attitude to a specific case.
The drawings in the book are Giorgi’s graphic language. He learned written language earlier than spoken language. He wrote a lot, was very much into alphabet systems. These drawings are interesting because beyond the plot, the portrait or self-portrait, these stories have a written signal. He will usually say what he is going to draw or mark it with a laconic message. That is why, I love these drawings, Giorgi’s language.
This is a perfect medium for a relationship between a child and a parent – the child draws something and you build a story around it. Any parent, whether writer or not, is the best storyteller for their child. Just as mother’s lullaby sounds better than the one sung by any professional singer. So, this can be turned into a communication game: you tell the kid “I want to know what you are drawing and thinking. I’ll try to guess and let’s see if it’s right.” You basically play the game “You Draw, I Tell”.
This is how we wrote our book of fairy tales. The book has two authors – Giorgi as an illustrator and his mother – as a writer.
I think other children will like it too.
Most importantly, this book is for the parents to try every means of communication with their children. A person should test all the options of connecting with another person, until he/she finds the most effective one.
Giorgi is a good reader. He reads these texts too, some of which he likes and others – not so much. I think at some point he will tell me: “Mom, you got it wrong, I meant something else”. I am waiting for that day.
This morning, I took him to the kindergarten. As he entered the room, he hugged the first child he saw because he wanted to hug and the warmth he’d got from his parents was not enough. The kids laughed at him. But for him, an occasion is an occasion, a pure emotion without any subtext. I want to have the same approach to the environment and achieve what Giorgi can do, be in full harmony with myself and, even though I am very scared, gradually, step-by-step start to trust other people, perceive other worlds and learn to love.
P.S. Our book dedication is as follows:
“One little boy, Giorgi, learned to draw before he could learn to speak. Then he talked with his mom through his drawings for a long, long time.
Mom could not draw but she could tell stories.
This is how this book was created. It is about a mother and a son who are trying to find a common language to speak.
This book is dedicated to all the mothers and children of the world, especially those who stand up to daily harsh challenges, fight them and defeat them. It is also dedicated to the eternal child who loves people like clouds and clouds – like people.”