Travels on the spectrum
An exhibition at Gillman Barracks sheds light on Autism Spectrum Disorder. (Photo: Ila & Jannah)

Travels on the spectrum

Stimming, Dreaming is an intimate presentation about ‘stimming’ and other mechanisms that help people cope with the stimuli of the world around them; an insight into the daily life of artist duo Ila & Jannah, both of whom have a sibling with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.

Stimming among those who are ‘neurotypical’ may be limited to behaviours including nail-biting, hair-twirling, knuckle-cracking, finger-drumming, tapping a pencil, aimless whistling, and foot-jiggling.

As one travels along the autism spectrum, stimming may progress to rocking, hair-pulling, repetitive blinking, staring at lights or rotating objects like ceiling fans, and compulsively rearranging objects. An autistic child may spend hours on end arranging toys instead of playing with them.

Other behaviours can cause physical harm and require more direct intervention. Head-banging, punching or biting, picking at scabs or sores, and swallowing dangerous objects are behaviours carried out by some people with a diagnosis of ASD, which covers several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome.

One child in 150 in Singapore is autistic (a higher rate than the World Health Organisation’s global figure of one in 160), which means there are nearly 4,000 under 15s diagnosed with the condition. Many more have not been formally diagnosed but are on the autism spectrum.

Successive academic studies suggest autistic traits are more common among people pursuing careers requiring a lot of intellectual horsepower in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Only a few autistic people have the jaw-dropping abilities of Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant character in Rain Man or architectural artist Stephen Lawrence but, being wired a little differently, many display unusual learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities.

While some individuals on the autism spectrum may have many challenges and need a lot of assistance, the majority can, with the right support, lead independent and productive lives.

Ila & Jannah hope to build understanding through Stimming, Dreaming by fusing personal experience with their talents in video, photography, text and performance. The A List spoke to Jannah shortly before the show opened at HEARTH art space at Gillman Barracks.

What are some of the common misconceptions about ASD? 

Jannah: That ASD is a disease that can be cured or that the symptoms, when seen in young children, can be outgrown. The most common misconception I come across is that people with ASD possess special skills and are regarded as savants, and that everyone shares the exact same traits.

One child in 150 is diagnosed with ASD in Singapore and it is likely there are many more who experience autistic traits but are not formally diagnosed. Do you think parents are as informed as they should be? 

Jannah: Even with adequate information and proper diagnosis, we as caregivers are constantly figuring things out because society is not structured to support people with different needs. Building alternative communities and fluid support systems is much more important than having all the information out there.

Can you talk about the dreaming aspect of Stimming, Dreaming

Jannah: The dreaming aspect is our perspective on stimming. Stimming calms and quietens, and it often looks like they are zoning out, making it seem like they are in a dream-like state.

What new outlook do you want people to take away from the exhibition?

Jannah: We would like for the public to experience our different realities and gain a better understanding of what stimming is. Also, we are tired of exhibitions on disability always having a ‘making it’ narrative. We want to share about Muhammad and Inaya just as they are. We are inviting the public to come and experience these deeply personal moments we share with them daily and to look beyond conventional perceptions of disability.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Stimming, Dreaming is at HEARTH from 12 to 19 Oct courtesy of Art Outreach, backed by the National Arts Council. Find out more about Stimming, Dreaming here.

We can’t wait to share more awesome content with you. This is going to be so much fun.

Give us a heads up on the topics that interest you: