tambourine paint

When Kane was 2, he introduced us to his favorite color. He called it “tambourine.”

The color was exact to him — either something was tambourine or it wasn’t — though it was a range of color to me. He would tell me when something fell into the range of tambourine and when it didn’t. It was best to ask and not try to guess, lest I make a mistake.

Later on, he refined the color to be “blue tambourine” and “green tambourine.” The closest definition is that blue tambourine is more or less turquoise and green tambourine is more or less teal, but neither is too dark. And Kane still has to confirm for me that something is, in fact, the color of tambourine.

I’m honestly not sure if there is a nuance of color that he sees that I don’t, or if he has a need to exert control over the definition of his favorite color. Perhaps it’s both. He has gone through other exact color phases, where he called particular shades of dark blue “purple” and dark orange “red” with a vehement stance.

I’ve learned that it’s best to respond with a comment that doesn’t debate, because whatever lens of perception he’s looking through is accurate to him. Usually, when he’s firmly cemented in his perception of what is or isn’t, I’ll say something like, “I know that this is purple to you. Other people might see it as dark blue.” I also know though that he has spectacular vision and sees colors vividly, similarly to how he can hear nuances in sound that I can’t. So, I’ve got to admit there’s always a part of me that thinks “hmmm, maybe I’m the one that has it all wrong.”

I asked him recently how he came to call this blue-green color “tambourine,” and he said that he heard it on a television show when he was 2, but he couldn’t remember which one. I have a feeling that it was an indirect association — for example, they talked about a tambourine at the same time they showed this particular color. How it occurred doesn’t really matter. In Kane’s mind, the association was immediately made and, therefore, forever used.

Ultimately, people in a society use a common vernacular because it provides a similar understanding of the world around us and allows us to relate to each other. Many times, we don’t even question or debate it. The fact that Kane both questions and debates, often with utmost persistence, in order to clarify or create order in his mind is what makes his perceptions both uniquely his and utterly fascinating to me.

I see a level of genius in being able to desconstruct the commonly understood world view and present it in a new way. I have always appreciated that Kane is truly individual, that he walks to the beat of his own drum, and that he can dive into intense focus on points of curiosity.

And I encourage that individuality. I think that education needs to provide as much room for following points of curiosity, fascination, and expression as it does in teaching the fundamentals. Many people with autism have an ability to delve deeply into a single topic of interest, to learn everything they can about that topic, and to focus on that topic with a level of concentration that I would probably have to force.

I have seen Kane use this focus when he draws. He went through a phase from around age 3 to 7 in which he constantly drew his perceptions of things he saw. Most of the time, they were recreations of scenes from cartoons or movies. Sometimes they were from live videos, sometimes from experiences. He used drawing as a way to dissect the images in his head. It was similar to how he would line up cars and move around them, examining them from every angle. But he did it on paper and with crayons instead. It was a fantastic outlet for him, and it was fascinating for Jeff and me to actually see a glimpse of what was going on in his head.

Here’s a picture of all the planes from the Disney Planes movie, at the starting line in one of the races. I can’t remember how many there were (probably 20-something). You can barely make out the nose of some of the planes, because he staggered them to show that they were in two lines.
drawing of Disney planes

Kane still draws, but he does it less now. We saw a marked decrease in drawing when he got a tablet device. I admit that I went through a bit of withdrawal when this happened, because I felt the window into his mind had been semi-closed off to me. We still encourage drawing though, and it’s still a format of expression that he uses consistently, if not as frequently.

There is absolutely no doubt that there’s something special going on in Kane’s mind. My hope is that he continues to find outlets in which he can express what’s there in a way that has meaning for him, even if it doesn’t for anyone else. I hope that the people he encounters in his life will have patience for this expression, and encourage it when possible. I also hope that one day I will get a better glimpse into the fascination that exists in his mind, whether it’s in tambourine or any other color I’ve yet to learn.

About Tabitha MacGowan

Hi, I’m Tabitha. I’m an author, autism parent, and advocate of acceptance, compassion, and love. I believe that we are all here for each other and we can co-create the world we want to live in. My book, Phig and the Eaven Prophecy, is a delicious fantasy written from the perspective of a boy on the autism spectrum. I invite you to join me and be a part of my magical world!

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