Creatives with autism: Untapped potential?
Meet the designer who wants to get autistic creatives the work they deserve.
“Creatives with autism are an underused well of talent”, according to an emerging South Melbourne designer who wants to empower people with the condition.
Kirk Cetinic is the artist behind Different, Not Defective…
Written by Peter Matthews | Edited by Autumn' O’Connor
Kirk Cetinic is the artist behind Different, Not Defective, an autism awareness exhibit that showed in St Kilda’s TooT Gallery throughout June 2019. A Collingwood gallery is now planning to display his work.
Influenced by the striking work of Cass, Vaserley and Russian Constructivism, Kirk has designed posters for major real estate projects, and for Swinburne University where he was a top-scoring student. Kirk also has autism.
Autism spectrum disorder is described in medical terms as a person who has ‘persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities’. Most often, these symptoms are misinterpreted as the person being antisocial, disconnected, rude, and self-involved.
Kirk thinks this definition is not entirely apt.
While most people with autism have issues connecting socially, they are far from disconnected.
“Although appearing robotic, I believe that people with autism are not antisocial,” Kirk told Autism at Work, in an interview.
“They have feelings and empathy and are also creative”.
“My exhibition is a good example of this: the autistic idiosyncrasies have an element of humour which makes people smile.”
The series of posters uses graphics and metaphors to transport the average person into the autistic mind, such as using a blank emoticon to signify the ‘flat affect’ phenomenon, where autistics tend to show a reduction in emotional expressiveness.
“Autistic people feel empathy but often lack the ability to express it”, Kirk explains, noting how flat affect is often misinterpreted as an inability to feel.
Another poster shows an orange running track on a clear blue day. A person leading the sprint jumps over a few hurdles, while an autistic runner has more hurdles which are literally stacked against them.
People with autism need extra time to reach a milestone.
“People with autism (like myself) need extra time to reach a milestone. That’s why the person with autism is jumping triple the height as opposed to the other athletes”, Kirk says.
There are three ‘levels’ of autism, based partly around how well the person with autism can hold a conversation. Level 1 is fluent communication with minimal supports, Level 2 requires significant support, while Level 3 means little to no verbal skill. Across all levels, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 60% of Australians with autism are unemployed. This gap in employment is the same as ignoring any marginalized group, says Kirk.
But where there are problems, there are solutions.
Kirk adds: “If every individual with autism spectrum disorder could find employment as easily as everyone else, they would feel valued… and if their potential could be developed, the stigma around autism could be eroded.”
Initiatives like “Autism at Work” and the neurodiversity movement hope to change the underemployment of autistic individuals, as well as raise awareness of the ‘untapped potential’ of this population.
“I feel those with autism may need additional support and encouragement to ensure they can contribute successfully and receive recognition from the mainstream society,” Kirk says.
Kirk also believes his diversity is a positive:
“My autism gives me creative strengths, a keen eye for detail and creating dynamic design solutions.”
The glossy high-concept posters are mixed with a timeline of Kirk’s experience. It’s both a resume and a deep look into how he got here.
Different, Not Defective is part of Kirk’s larger mission to make the world easier for people with autism. Using the exhibition to find opportunities, he’s leading by example.
“I would like to speak publicly about neurodiversity to break down the barriers to those wanting to make the most of their creative potential but lack the ability to market themselves effectively.
“I would also encourage those on the Spectrum to take risks, persist with finding opportunities and to not be discouraged by failure.”
Kirk’s portfolio is available at kirkuxdesign.com.
About the Author:
Peter Salvatore Matthews is an author and neurodiversity advocate. He received a degree in Communications after being told he may never speak, became a radio interviewer after being told he would never be able to hold a conversation, and has several other forbidden hobbies. He also likes tea and capybaras.