Shh...Mum is Thinking

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Quiet Moments: Illusions, Compensations and the Space Between


My son has had a recent interest in optical illusions, so this week we’ve thrown a mini-theme on them into our usual home schooling work.

When I was a kid, the ink version of the illusion shown here was my own favourite. I copied it over and over, especially to kill time during high school classes. I loved the play between themes of age/youth, appealing/appalling; still do. I think the simpler version at right is more effective in terms of the illusion, but the Klimt inspired version was too fun to pass up. I enjoy the juxtaposition of themes in his work, it seemed natural he would spring to mind while painting the first version. Besides, I’ve always thought Klimt must have had so much FUN while painting, why shouldn’t I?

My son has been quite interested in these, hanging over my shoulder, “Oooo, she’s ugly-spooky, mum!” in a shivery, fascinated way.

I started painting these as a result of dwelling on the way we react differently to something solely depending on our perceptions. Like being proud of my son's special interests (maps, cars, street signs, this kid is GOING places! sez mum) pre-diagnosis, and then that dropping stomach feeling when worrying about his 'obsessions' post-diagnosis. Same child, same actions, different reaction to them due solely to my own perceptions.

This illusion came to mind...and in turn, the paintings sparked his curiosity about optical illusions in general.


There are a number of daily household chores that I really don’t mind. Actually, I’m lazy and don’t really like the chores themselves, but because they are repetitive, mindless tasks there is the compensation of using that time to let my mind wander to topics that interest me.

SO…I’m washing dishes two days ago. The gears are turning, I'm lost in thought.

There’s a sudden voice at my elbow…

“Mum, there’s an army base that is real. It was on two different cartoons.”

I scramble back to reality.


“Mum, I know it’s a real place! Because it was on TWO cartoons!”

“So what's the name of the base?” I ask, groping to make sense of what he’s saying.

“Fort Knox, but that’s not the important part.”

I’m so confused, what on earth…?

“See, it was on Scooby Doo AND Dexter’s Laboratory.”

I’m missing something here, and I’m worried he’ll leave before I understand properly. Keep him talking, eventually it will make sense, I think.

“You’re right, Fort Knox is a real place, though I don’t think it’s exactly an ‘army base’. Do you know what they keep at Fort Knox?”

“Gold.” He frowns a bit.

“Yep, that’s right.”

He realises mum still isn’t getting it, so he tries again.

“Mum, I know it’s a real place because it was on two different cartoons. If it was only on one cartoon it might be made up, but if it’s on two cartoons it IS a real place.”

Suddenly it gets through my foggy brain—he’s less interested in sharing a piece of information, more interested in sharing the thought process that gave it to him. I almost missed that elegant bit of logic. Thank goodness he’s persistent.

I asked when he’d seen the cartoons, but he didn’t remember. Those seemingly unrelated bits of info were probably simmering in his little head for ages, just waiting for one of those lovely quiet 'down' times to hook up and become...Fort Knox! A for-real place, not made up!

The Space Between…

I’m pleased that my son is making progress with his handwriting; forming letters and words has been a difficult challenge for him. At one point, age 4, he refused for months to even hold a pencil or crayon, going so far as to give up his beloved car drawing after the frustration of seeing children in preschool write so easily. I remember him saying, in anger and frustration, everyone at school could write except me. I’m stupid, I’m stupid.

It’s been a long road to help him regain a feeling of competence, and I am mindful of that while we work. It’s hard to give advice or teach and at the same time avoid making him feel criticised. I find myself thinking on my feet as we go, trying to demonstrate ideas to him rather than explain them.


“Honey, your letters are brilliant, but we need to work on leaving spaces between the words.”

Instant frown.

“There ARE spaces between the words!”

The spaces aren't any bigger than the spaces between letters, I think, and mentally scramble for a way to demonstrate without his closing down from the information.

“Well, have a look at this..."


He is angry and annoyed. He doesn't want to look at it.

I tell him he needs to try reading this if he wants to find the secret message, but this time I’ll make it easier.

I write it again with spaces.

He smiles.

Whew, disaster averted.

After homeschool is done we usually go to the little local grocer that’s in walking distance of our house. He has money for gum in his hand.

He picks his gum and goes to pay the cashier. She asks him a question; he misses it, staring at the array of candy on the counter. I poke him gently and he looks up, surprised. She smiles and repeats the question; he answers. I want to hug her. She’s the same girl who left a metallic golden-coloured beetle (miraculously still alive after sitting in the bright sun) in a jar on our front porch this summer with a note that it was for my son. She knows my son loves insects. She also knows he’s autistic. She is kind but matter of fact with him, and gives him a nice taste of ‘official’ type social interaction on an almost daily basis.

This morning…

He’s watching the educational children’s program I allow him while I get ready for our homeschooling day.

“Mum! Look! It’s a stick insect!” he cries.

The host is holding a twig on which there is a lovely bright orange stick insect.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if a dog ate it because someone told him to fetch?” laughs my son.

He and I both have a hard time getting the punchline of some jokes, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sense of humour there :-)

Sorry, I know this is rambling. This WEEK has been rambling, though, and a bit unfocused; often stressful, but with small, quiet compensations for our difficulties.


At 8:24 AM, June 01, 2006, Blogger r.b. said...

Don't apologize for ramblings, that's often where I learn the most. It was very easy to read.

Loved the before/after label comparison...a lot of us have that story.

Our kids are in some ways so similar to each other (having similar wiring) that an "AHA!" moment of understanding reverberates in the community. We see our own children more clearly.

At 11:35 AM, June 01, 2006, Blogger Joseph said...

That's a remarkable optical illusion. Took me a bit to see it too.

At 4:47 AM, June 02, 2006, Blogger Mum is Thinking said...

r.b., thanks :) I like reading everyday stuff about our kids too; you're right, the simple stuff is often the most telling.

The before/after thing is really bothersome, isn't it? I'd like to read more about how others dealt with that--and not just the initial "Oh my god, he's spinning the tires on his hotwheels again!" freakout moments--but the real coming to terms that comes after that.

Joseph, I think that illusion is actually much more effective when it's in ink and a simple ink line drawing. With this painted version, my children had a hard time seeing the 'old lady' until I pointed out her features, then they complained they had a hard time seeing the 'young lady' :-)

The old lady is a bit intimidating and hard to get past once you see her, eek :-O


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