Wil C. Kerner, The Cutout Kid! A Mind of Brilliant Colors
Wil C. Kerner, The Cutout Kid! is an autistic savant well known for his joyfully abstract paper cutouts. On the other hand, Wil’s food repertoire is mostly limited to pepperoni pizza, chicken strips, and Doritos. Soon to be 17, he requires assistance getting dressed if we want the clothes right side out. And he hasn’t washed his hair via the traditional method for six years and won’t step into the shower until he completely wipes it down.
Wil’s neurologist saw him only in the parking lot until a few months ago. When, with the guidance of a psychologist, we began weekly trips to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Week one, he got out of the car. Week two, he touched the building. By the fourth or fifth week, he walked right past us into the Autism Center. Since then, we have applied this technique to many things including getting him over his fear of using escalators and elevators, getting him to allow me to use a battery operated trimmer on his beard, and staying overnight at Wolf Mountain Lodge.
Wil taught himself to read and learned to use my iPhone to access YouTube to view movies and cartoons. VHS and DVD players are child’s play for him, he is the official pump and light operator when we use the hot tub, and acts as the garage door operator when we come and go from the house. At school, his tested reading remains at first to second grade level while at home he scans the pages of his own books and seems to grasp and correctly interpret the information. Obviously, there is more to Wil than can be tested, a common reality of most autistic children.
As a family, we have come a long way. His dad, grandma, and I no longer need tetanus shots; he has outgrown hanging off our arms by his teeth. Nor does he leave his colorful scribbled calling card 12-feet high on the garage wall anymore, or lie on top of the highest closet shelves or walk on the counter tops, or sit on top of the refrigerator anymore. Yikes was it costly the many times plumbers unclogged the toilets of toys, and dug out the food, sodas and items he had poured and stuffed down the furnace vents eliminating the urine smell he had left behind.
I’m not sure how old Wil was when I first realized how much he loves motion. Over time, he has satisfied this need with parent-driven rides on the ATV, rocking in the car seat (requiring us to weld the front seat of our F150 Ford Truck three times), jumping on his trampolines, swinging, and rocking in his heavy duty teak outdoor rocker. Just in the last month, he has begun using his outdoor trampoline at around 10pm each night.
Wil’s love for motion is surpassed only by his love of paper and cutting. Paper is everywhere. It is stacked on almost every flat surface in our house, albeit the stacks typically are of specific colors representing his video characters. Scraps cover the floors as though a tornado blew through the house leaving a whirlwind scattering of colors and shapes in every direction. Many times, I have found him curled up in his bed so as not to disturb the artwork he lay next to. He uses every opportunity to negotiate a trip to the paper store. Michaels is his recent favorite, but he visits Sams Club, Costco, Target, Staples, and Office Depot in search of paper. I try to limit his paper expenditures but have to say that we have come a long way since he would use filed tax returns, documents, and receipts when he ran out or just wanted ‘white.’
Instead of making the animated character Arthur in cutout form, Wil himself occasionally becomes Arthur for the day. He dresses himself in Arthur clothing consisting of a long-sleeve yellow shirt, blue pants, and red tennis shoes with white trims and laces, and special sunglasses, which out-of-the-blue he chose on a shopping trip as his Arthur outfit. And those in his school class recognize and acknowledge his choice to resemble Arthur for the day. Learning to live with Wil is challenging, until you begin realizing the hilarity he generates and shares is a new comedic style and revelation: Wil likes himself.
He loves the paper and cutting and he loves us too. Not enough to help pick up the paper, just enough to follow us from room to room with it. “Gimme a hug,” is a favorite phrase he uses if an attempt is made to involve him in paper clean up. Although he often uses, “You be sorry” to let us know he feels bad for making us clean up after him. He cannot talk much but is so expressive. It is as though Wil traveled through a dim tunnel from birth until the moment he discovered the brilliant colors of paper. And according to Dr. Treffert, the world’s foremost expert on Savant Syndrome, Wil’s savant brain is wired to make art.
The hardest part of sharing Wil’s colorful talent is being on the spot when he decides he is finished with a piece, else he swipes it away rendering it unrecognizable. I think it seems to him that if I see it I also see his inner thoughts that he might be protective of. Conversely, he loves going to the gallery and watching others look at his art, his best means of communicating.
Debra Kerner is Wil’s mother and the owner of All StarZ Staffing and Consulting LLC, located in Kent, Washington. She is originally from San Pedro, California.
Debra insists on Wil making his own choices and works hard at exposing him to new learning tools, places and people. She loves Wil’s loveable-huggable self, his interesting perspective, and his quirky sense of humor.
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