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The Arts and Medicine
October 27, 2020

Trains and Outer Space—The Unique Worlds Within Autism

Author Affiliations
  • 1Genomic Psychiatry Consultation Service, Verrecchia Clinic for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities, Bradley Hospital, East Providence, Rhode Island
  • 2Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
JAMA. 2020;324(16):1591-1592. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19051

What is your thing?”

This is often my favorite question to ask people on the autism spectrum who come to our clinic. I patiently wait for the answers, some of which come from the kids and young adults themselves, and some that are shared by the families of people with limited language as their eyes brighten up. I have learned about sharks, igneous rocks, clocks, different philosophical theories (and why they don’t make sense), Def Leppard, Star Wars, SpongeBob SquarePants, Elmo, how it is possible to rewrite and illustrate The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe in the most spectacular way, an entire new universe akin to Pokémon, basketball scoring (and the advantages of the number 22), clay sculptures, Minecraft, the wisdom behind owls, quantum physics, dancing, parades, penguins, and of course, trains and outer space. I have seen firsthand the breathtaking results of many of those intense interests and how they can be simultaneously revitalizing and consuming.

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