(Selected images from Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism, which includes more than 235 portraits to date)
Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism
Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism is a long-term photographic project documenting the growing number of individuals, families and invested teachers, advocates, clinicians, medical professionals and researchers on the front lines fighting back against disability. Facing Autism is both a call to action, and a way to honor those who are rising to the challenge autism presents everyday.
“Autistic spectrum disorders are complex developmental disorders, associated with the well-known symptoms of social and communication difficulties, self-stimulatory and repetitive behaviors, and narrow or overly-focused interests. These symptoms result from underlying challenges in a child’s ability to take in the world through his senses, and to use his body and thoughts to respond to it.”
— Child Psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Greenspan MD
Public debate is intense as the nation grapples with a sense of urgency for answers regarding the causation, prevalence, and effective treatment of autism spectrum disorders that now affects at least 1:88 children in the U.S., 1:47 in Utah. In a paper written by Dr. Martha R. Herbert, MD, Autism: A Brain Disorder, Or A Disorder That Affects The Brain? Dr. Herbert states that, “ Autism has been modeled as a brain-based, strongly genetic disorder, but emerging findings and hypotheses support a broader model of the condition as genetically influenced and systemic.” Dr. Herbert acknowledges the role of environmental insults as a possible trigger for biomedical conditions that impact the varying behaviors associated with autism and indicates possible points for intervention and treatment. If researchers were able to identify components of the toxic soup required to trigger vulnerable children, perhaps we could begin to stem the tide of children struggling with allergies, asthma, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism.
I create and exhibit this work to humanize the statistics and to convey my deep concern about the impact of environmental toxicity on health and human development. The Facing Autism portraits compel the viewer’s engagement, and demand a sensitive visual inquiry of the individual faces. In the act of looking, the viewer may experience a sense of being “seen” by the children, in their delight and anguish; “seen” by the fierce and loving families in their grief and hope; “seen” by the teachers and therapists in their commitment to the notion that all children can learn; “seen” by the compassionate medical professionals in their search for ways to relieve human suffering and “seen” by the scientific and academic research community who dare to raise disquiet in their pursuit of truth related to autism causation. This shift in perception reduces the chance of exploiting “poster children” to gain political currency, exposing those with power to the collective gaze of expectation by the autism community.
Facing Autism heralds a significant truth. The causation of the autism epidemic is yet unknown, and even as the numbers grow exponentially, the collective response seems utterly inadequate. Our children’s minds and bodies are being held hostage in the public and private battleground of the politics of autism. Our eyes are on you. We are pleading with you not to be silent in the face our urgency.