The “why” behind the Faces of Autism book…
I knew my youngest son, Alex, had some differences. He was 2, and something seemed off about his emerging language skills. He was vocalizing, but it was mostly prompted repeating, and he didn’t seem to be able to communicate effectively — he wouldn’t even gesture for simple wants and needs. He also didn’t appear to want much to do with the people around him, and what I thought were tantrums were often explosive. I knew there was something more going on. And yet I couldn’t face the word that kept flitting through my mind: autism. Because what I knew of autism at the time was scary to me. I knew he needed help, yet I was afraid what that would mean. I felt helpless and hopeless. I didn’t feel ready to face these challenges.
We finally faced facts and found an amazing therapy center to help him. At almost 4 years old, Alex began attending an early intervention therapy center eight hours a day, five days a week, year round. The first day I dropped him off, I got into my car and I felt a tremendous wave of relief. Alex immediately began making progress on simple but monumental things, like brushing his teeth, using his imagination when he played with his toys, calling me “Mom.”
I spent a lot of time waiting in the lobby at drop off and pick up. I started to notice the other children in the center were making significant progress, too. I wanted the world to know about these children and how remarkable they are.
As a photographer, my favorite subjects are children. I love their innocence, raw emotions and delightful spirits. I felt compelled to photograph these children in particular and tell their stories. Compelled! I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted people to see autism through a different lens.
So two years ago, I set out to photograph 30 different children with autism spectrum disorder. I was determined to show a different side of autism. Not all the doom and gloom, therapies and theories, facts and figures that one often gets when looking for information about autism. Don’t get me wrong, autism can come with challenges, not only for the individual with autism, but for their families as well. We need therapies, techniques, theories, facts and data in order to help support individuals with autism.
I feel we’ve done a great job in recent history to raise awareness of autism. And we are moving toward autism acceptance, which is a step in the right direction. However, acceptance implies tolerance. And who wants to simply be tolerated? No. I want to take it to the next level. I want to change the conversation we have about autism. I want to move towards “autism admiration.”
What would happen if we value autism as a strength? What would happen if we allowed those with autism the space to develop at their own pace, for their ideas to be considered, for their strengths to flourish, and for their life challenges to be supported? What gifts will they bestow on the world? What if our education systems were elevated to make creative, active, experiential learning the norm? Couldn’t this shift benefit all students and be far more inclusive of those with autism?
I have the unique vantage point of being a parent to a child with autism and also an observer of those on the spectrum through the lens of my camera. As a photographer, I am invited into people’s lives, quickly developing a rapport to allow them to be their authentic selves in order to create a compelling portrait. I have the privilege of interacting with and getting to know families intimately, if even for a brief amount of time. It’s given me a unique perspective. And what I see is:
As a photographer, my life’s purpose is to reveal beauty. Let me show you the inner beauty I see in these children. Let me show you their magic.