Reweaving the Autistic Tapestry: Autism, Asperger Syndrome and ADHD  
By Lisa Blakemore-Brown. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2002.
224 pages. Includes appendices of diagnostic criteria
 and resources around the English-speaking world, and indexes. 
ISBN: 1-85302-748-0

Available in Canada from Irwin Publishing.

This book is concerned with the links among Autism, Asperger syndrome, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other developmental disorders in their characteristics and in the strategies and interventions that can improve the life chances of those who suffer. The author notes that the incidence of these disorders has risen sharply during the 1990s, factors in this rise including increased awareness and diagnosis, a widening of criteria into spectrum models, and a real increase in the underlying causes and triggers.

Lisa Blakemore-Brown uses extended metaphors of weaving and tapestry throughout her book “at various levels of explanation to illustrate the complexity and interweave of genetic potential and environmental triggers, in a story of how people themselves develop” (p.33). She likens her use of this imagery to Chaos Theory. In one use of the metaphor, the genetic blueprint is compared to longitudinal warp threads in a web, while environmental factors and context are like the weft threads that intersect the warp at right angles. While “normal developmental tapestries require the careful execution of a plan” and a “weaving process” with “repetitive, rhythmic and balanced actions” (p.34), genetic differences and environmental triggers (including failures in the service system) can disrupt the weaving process and result in tangled tapestries. Each personal tapestry is unique, but some commonalities can be detected. Pragmatic tapestries of risk factors (including a continuum of severity) and of resilience factors are proposed, to provide a better basis for “more focused and finely tuned interventions” (p.27) that may reweave the tapestries. The tapestry model gives scope for time-lines to show a chronology of critical events, as well as the context of relationships and multiple environmental factors. Variations in texture and colour may be used conceptually to illustrate individual responses to interventions.

Weaving and tapestry are attractive metaphors that can help us to imagine  the vast numbers of variables involved in the complex and pervasive manifestations of what we call Autism and to understanding the concept of a spectrum of related disorders. The idea of individual and unique tapestries for each person is valuable, in helping us to ponder the possible effects of planned interventions in the fabric of a person’s life. The metaphor of reweaving a tangled tapestry can help us envision how to plan and carry through interventions. It may help us guard against the dangers of over-simplifying the difficulties in expecting that a single intervention will fix all. 

Lisa Blakemore-Brown writes almost entirely about children with Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD. But I would agree with her suggestion that “it’s never too late to reweave the autistic tapestry” beyond the childhood years and that the tapestry approach could help the “golden children” of the past for whom very little has seemed to work (p.30).  

The reader has to work hard at following the threads of this book. More graphic illustrations of specific drawn tapestries would have helped, so much that the costs of some colour printing could have been justified. The profiles of specific “tapestry kids” at the ends of the first five chapters are presented as traditional case notes. Only a few pages (pp. 206-216) provide practical guidance in the application of the tapestry concept. If we could wish for more graphic illustrations of the tapestry and weaving metaphors, we can be grateful for the imaginative word picture which the author closes the book (p.302):

Tapestry blanket to wrap around your child
To weave this rainbow blanket you need the following strands of silk:
SHIMMERING GOLD:  Positive, non-blaming support for parents and children who take priority in our society – they represent the future
SYMPHONY SILVER: touch-talk-gaze woven sensory skills
FLUORESCENT YELLOW: attention and engagement
INDIGO BLUE:   taking turns and listening
PINK:    regular pauses threaded throughout
BREEZE BLUE:  imitation/expression, gesture, motor action and language
PURPLE:   rich, respectful novel experiences
AQUAMARINE: calm, cool, non-confrontational responses when tempers flare
SUNRISE RED:  times for fun, fast, joyful delivery
SEA GREEN:   balanced, wave-like interactions
MELLOW YELLOW:  recognition of child’s need for quiet times alone
TERRACOTTA: down-to-earth, straightforward descriptions of skills and problems
SUNSET ORANGE:  consistent, salient rewards for all successes and positive  behaviour
SOLID SILVER:  functional analyses weaving basic “unique child tapestry”
PACIFIC BLUE:  clear, simple, precise instruction – one at a time
BRIGHT WHITE: keeping simple clear records of progress, for ongoing fine-tuning
BURNISHED BLACK: protecting the human rights of your child, through legal action if necessary

Lisa Blakemore-Brown is an independent applied psychologist specialising in ADHD, Asperger Syndrome and related disorders. She is Chairwoman of Promoting Parenting Skills (BPS Psychologists) in Britain. Her recent research has focused on early intensive system intervention, and the increasing professional recognition of the overlapping features of ADHD and Asperger Syndrome