Kim and Eileen Miller collaborated to create a fascinating book, The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures Autism Through Art. They currently help educators, professionals and families by talking about their experiences through public speaking engagements. LoveToKnow is thrilled that they have granted an insightful interview.
Author Eileen Miller
What gave you the idea to write the book?
When Kim was in Early Intervention preschool, I wrote an article regarding our family's experience with autism for a magazine. After being accepted and then dumped, I shopped the article around for two years with no luck. A friend in the education profession introduced me to a developmental pediatrician from the University of Oregon, who had heard of our story. After reading our unpublished article, he encouraged me to write the rest of the story as a book. The book evolved over the course of writing (10 years) from the story about our family experience with autism to one of art and autism as Kim's artistic and communication abilities developed.
What do you hope readers will take with them after reading it?
My greatest hope is that they have learned something new about autism. Secondly, I would like people to look for communication in those who are unable to verbalize their thoughts and to see their potential.
I never again want to see a headline of the news regarding a parent/parishioner/pastor, harming or killing a child because they were trying to remove some sort of evil from an individual who has ASD. (Two children in the U.S. suffered that fate during the course of writing the book.)
How can parents encourage their children to excel?
Support, support, support! And I'm not talking about verbal affirmation, or the physical presence at a music recital or basketball game, which is fine for the typical kid. Most children with autism need a highly structured life that is stable with constant reinforcement. Consistency and predictability are a must. In order for a child with autism to be able to focus on learning, all other distractions in environment and scheduling must be eliminated.
The strategies used to organize schedules for autistic individuals can also apply to those people whose children have other learning disabilities. Many people do not understand that just because a skill has been performed successfully one time, does not mean that it will be repeated again. Even though a skill seems to be mastered on site, does not mean that it is transferred to another environment.
How can teachers and therapists encourage learning and interaction?
First of all teachers need to make a few visitations with the student beforehand to observe behaviors in different settings. Each child with autism is as individual as a snowflake, their needs are not the same as a student that the teacher/therapists has known in the past. Teachers need to encourage parents to be involved in the education process. Remember, the child is with the teachers a portion of the day, the rest is with the home environment. This is why it is crucial (especially those with a communication/interaction disorder) that education programs be reinforced at home as well as school.
Continuity is an absolute must in order for learning to be achieved. Interaction is a more challenging issue because a child with autism can be overwhelmed with stimulation and regression can occur. Again, with good communication between home and school a balance can be achieved. Teachers facilitate interaction at school and parents can do the same in the home or in other environments. Of course there are many more strategies than we have time to outline here.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced?
People have been the terrific resources in getting services that my daughter needed, and yet they have also posed some of the greatest challenges. Because I been perceived as just a parent I have often been overlooked as an autism resource. Essentially, I had to overcome professional's perception to build a reputation of advocate and teambuilder.
What topics are covered in your speaking engagements?
I enjoy speaking about building support between teachers and parents of special needs students. (I do not ever want to see the articles that have come out in the past regarding ASD children led out of classroom in handcuffs.These problems arise from poor IEP planning, failure and breakdown of communication between school and home.)
As a person who is sympathetic to the education profession, I can see how both sides of the issue of having a child with special needs/behavior challenges in the classroom and difficult it is to balance the needs of a class. As a parent, I have a unique perspective about being an advocate for a person with a communication/interaction disorder. Because of our personal experience of dealing with schools and the public, these are some of the topics that I would like to address:
- Problem solving Strategies
- Advocacy between student/teacher/parent
- How to build support for a student with Autism
- Constructing communication system/schedule that evolve with your child
- Environment at home does matter
- The importance of keeping a journal
- Stabilizing home life
Is there another book in the works?
Yes. Our manuscript had to be cut in half because of the length and therefore we were not able to address all autism issues.
Artist Kim Miller
What subjects do you like to use in your art?
I enjoy creating ceramic masks, theatrical drama, and incorporating the events happening in my life. The subjects are relevant to my life.
Do you have a favorite piece?
I don't really have a favorite piece, I view them as a record of my life or museum of memories. Some of the artworks bring great joy and a feeling of triumph where other pieces may evoke negative feeling that I would rather not replay in my mind.
What do you like about autism?
I like my skills and am comfortable with who I am. Having a photographic memory enhances my artwork and yet can be difficult to live with. I enjoy creating anything out the materials at hand, there are no limits to my art. Not only do I have hypersensitive hearing, but my vision is acute. I see everything in great detail. Many times I notice small items that others overlook or filter out.
What do you wish other people knew about autism?
I would like other people to learn about autism and then we will not be an "enigma." By learning about autism, they can be more sensitive when making modifications and accommodations. Education in autism creates understanding, and removes barriers of ignorant behavior which makes my life easier.
That we have potential. Autistic people have the ability to participate in society and we are an untapped resource for creative thinking.
Do you have any advice for parents and teachers?
Work together! The most upsetting events of my life occurred when there was no communication between adults.
Be honest and explain things in plain simple language. Give directions one step at a time, multisteps can be confusing. Put your emotions aside. Kids with autism can sense tension, excitement, and hostility exponentially even though we might not show it on the surface.
What plans do you have for the future?
First of all, I have taken a year off from college to travel around to speak to teachers/professionals and parents about autism.
I see myself in the future as a world traveler and a college graduate. I have not yet selected a vocation for a career, but have narrowed down my options.
Where can people find your artwork?
Books that contain some of my artwork are:
Autism: Facts and Strategies for Parents (Paperback) by Janice E. Janzen (Author)
Autism, A Guide for Educators, Clinicians and Parents (Perfect Paperback) by G. Robert Buckendorf(Author), Ph.D.
Please visit The Girl Who Spoke with Pictures website for more information about Eileen and Kim, including videos and contact information for speaking engagements.