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Wil Kerner: A Boy, Scissors and Some Paper

By Darold Treffert, MD

Wil C. Kerner has autism, yet within his range of deficits lives a wise and determined brightness. Diagnosed at age 2, video characters already had become his friends. Videos themselves already had become his central part of learning, ultimately teaching him color and shape differences, the alphabet and words, basic numbers and a lot about relationships. He has always related well to his family and now understands to some extent he must participate in life outside himself and his world of video and DVD friends.

Wil has never been attracted to toys, but at 9 discovered the feel and colors of Play-Doh and began drawing simple facial expressions and cutting shapes from colored construction papers. Within months, when his teachers asked how he was he would verbally label his feelings “I’m grumpy” or “I’m sleepy” or with one of the other names of Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs. On his 10th birthday, he finally realized a present had a surprise inside. Shortly after, and to his delight, he found his artistic niche in the progression of his cuts and characters. His reactions showed that he knew he was excelling in art. Particularly, he worked at cutting the same pieces as many times as it took until he had them just right. He made it known when he became content with a character often by letting out a holler while flailing his arms in celebration as he still does.

Ironically, Wil had three years of cccupational therapy focused on how to hold and use scissors. In the end, he was barely able to hold and use spring-loaded scissors to make straight short cuts, even with their ergonomic comfort grip and automatic opening. It appeared his natural finger control was opposed to the design of the scissors and therefore he did not favor cutting. Of course, somewhere within himself he liked what scissors could do and ultimately chose regular pairs of kid scissors off a store rack to create his characters.

Oddly, Wil wraps his entire hand completely around his scissors, instead of positioning his thumb and two middle fingers in their holes, mysteriously making them cut.

Others have tried using scissors as he does but cannot figure out how he manages to make them work. His cuts are small, swift and quite visible, having to make more than the average person would to create his art. Yet the visual roundness of his circles easily hides his many angled cuts unless one closely looks.

Scissors are in Wil’s hand most of his day. He reaches for scissors upon waking and often falls asleep at night with them in his hand.

Minimally he shops three times a week for colored papers essential for creating his very special cutouts. Inspiration for his art obviously stems from watching videos and DVDs. Clearly, he emotionally relates to every character he cuts.

Stacking papers is Wil’s latest art form. Each stack represents a character depicted by its colors and staggered according to its height and relationship to each other.

Wil turns 13 on August 8, 2008. He is an only child, home-schooled and bright, though his disability paces his learning. Ordinarily he grasps part rather than whole ideas, and his speech is limited. Enjoyably, he anticipates the big holidays, while avoiding scary Halloween, even though he loves to play pretend monster. He especially enjoys eating chicken strips and French fries, calms himself by swinging and jumping on his trampoline, and becomes excitingly energized on parent-driven ATV rides around their acreage, as he cannot steer yet. Oh, how he takes pleasure in car rides down new roads just to see what is there. Wil does suffer bouts of anxiety when uninvited (by him) people enter his space, whether at his home or that of his grandparents. On the other hand, he is able to attend his art shows for a couple hours at a time. Overall, Wil is a loveable, huggable soul of great courage and fortitude. It is so easy to appreciate his fun talent. As Wil gets an idea for a new character, the smiles on his face are priceless. Equally, his finished characters seem to talk to the onlooker’s inner self, sprouting emotionally joyful smiles. Can you imagine a better human pursuit than making people smile?

Whether Wil’s autism sculpts his abstract style or his abstract cutouts are artistic impressions born outside his autism, only Wil Knows. Either way, Autism no longer has total charge of Wil’s journey. Wil’s art has taken the lead!

As can be seen on this site, savant artists use a variety of materials and ways to express their talent and emotion—painting, drawing, sculpting and silhouettes. Wil’s medium is construction paper fashioned in a most creative way. A May 7, 2008 article in the Seattle Times tells the story of Wil and his remarkable talent. His creations project expression, emotion and symbolism in Wil’s very  unique style.

You can learn more about Wil, and view more of his unique art work at his website: www.wilspapercutouts.com.


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For more information, please contact:
Darold A. Treffert, MD
St. Agnes Hospital, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison
Personal website: www.daroldtreffert.com
E-mail: daroldt@charter.net