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  • Writer's pictureJulie Love

Parenting the Neurodivergent

You’ve been working all your life for this day, and it’s finally here! Your art class!

You line up to enter the art school, waiting to be given the box of art supplies that you’ve been dreaming to see. They hand you your box and direct you towards your table to work. As you walk down the aisle, you look at all the students who came before you. Some are proudly displaying masterpieces, others have quirky but still delightful works. Most are still working on theirs. Some are not happy. “But I was planning to work in oils, not watercolors!” one cries, then looks around, embarrassed to have said that so loudly. At one table, you see someone desperately trying to make the painting they’d planned, despite having received a lump of clay in their box. You know you would never do that; you know that all art is special and you’ll love it no matter what materials you have to work with.

You get to your table and open your box. Paintbrushes, a palette, and little tubes of paint – great! You admit it would have been a challenge if you suddenly had to learn how to knit, or carve, or do pottery. But where’s the paper? People at the tables all around you are laying out their supplies – pens, markers, crayons, but also pads of paper and canvases. Then you find the bag in the bottom of your box. You open it and see… puzzle pieces. A jigsaw puzzle. All blank white. Five hundred pieces. At least.

This is your life now. While those around you are painting and drawing, you can’t even start until you have something to paint on. Some people stop by to tell you to hurry up, or to share some of their pens and markers as if that will help you catch up. Others at least have some clue, and offer useful suggestions like starting with the edge pieces. A few even stick around and help put some pieces together, but it barely makes a dent and doesn’t change the fact that this is your puzzle, your responsibility. You wanted to be in this art class, you knew when you signed up that everyone gets a different box of art supplies. You have no right to complain.

But you never dreamed it would be so hard! The others are working hard as well, no doubt, and you try to listen sympathetically to their struggles with less-than perfect brushes, or the challenges of learning the perfect technique to master perspective, but you have to struggle to not tell them how much you would love to deal with that since it would mean your puzzle is finally together and you actually get to start painting!

You love your puzzle, of course you do. People tell you that when your painting is finished you will know that it was worth all the effort. You hope that’s true. Well, first, you just hope that the painting will get finished – many days that seems completely impossible, and you worry what will happen when you’re too old to hold a brush, who will take over for you then? But if you do finish it… Will you ever be able to just enjoy its beauty, without being distracted by the lines and bumps that show this painting doesn’t have a smooth, even canvas underneath it like all the others? And will you look back on this art class, and remember it fondly? Will you remember the times when the absurdity of the situation was actually hilarious, the times when you connected others struggling to solve their own puzzles, or those rare magical moments when you saw how the puzzle pieces fit with the painting and actually made it better than it would have been without them?

Or will it always be the place where everyone else was laughing and joyfully creating, while you sat alone at your table, trying to not let your tears fall on the puzzle pieces lest they warp and become even harder to fit together?

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