Brooke is looking over my shoulder while I write. Her gaze inscrutable as usual — neither friendly nor distant. Perhaps curious. I don’t know what she’s thinking but am silently reminded of how little I know about autism. Her photograph and those of a half dozen other children surround me. Each one carries a lesson or prompts a question.
Three years ago none of these photos existed, and the truth is I couldn’t have named a single person with autism. It was just something I didn’t think about. I walked around with the misimpressions of the fortunate ignorant: vague notions that people with autism couldn’t express emotions; curiosity about savant-like skills; and, the idea that an autistic mind was a place apart, disconnected, from the rest of us.
These misimpressions started to change the day I walked into one of May Institute’s schools with a seemingly simple assignment — photograph from sunrise to sunset.
I learned a lot that day. As I have every time I’ve photographed a child with autism. I’ve learned that blowing bubbles is a simple but delightful pastime. That Jeremy plays the keyboard by ear. Alison takes copious notes. Rossi likes goldfish crackers. Michelle enjoys giving gifts. Heather is having a bad day. Gabe seems bored with story time.
Nestled between or maybe within these little lessons are some larger ones. I’ve learned that children with autism aren’t so different from my own ‘typical’ children. They have good days and bad, small distractions and big issues, the ability to delight and trains of thought I cannot follow. They have insights, tantrums, passions and loving relationships.
As I glance back over my shoulder, I wonder if someday I’ll figure out what Brooke is thinking. Meanwhile, I still have a lot to learn.
|Andrew Child, Photographer
Collaborated with May Institute on the “Faces and Voices of Autism” exhibit
Solutions to problems