When you give politicians the number “1 in 88,” what they hear is the “one.” They don’t hear “millions of people are struggling with autism spectrum disorders every day.”
My wife, Jacqueline, and I want to help people move beyond just understanding the autism community as a statistic and show the faces that convey the reality of this community. Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism is a grass-roots photographic project documenting the growing number of individuals, families, teachers, therapists, advocates, doctors and researchers on the front lines – fighting back against disability.
I try to create portraits that compel the viewer’s engagement and demand a sensitive visual inquiry of each individual’s face. In the act of looking, the viewer may experience a sense of being “seen” by these children and adults in the midst of 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 help; “seen” by the compassionate medical professionals in their search for ways to relieve human suffering; and “seen” by the members of scientific and academic research community who are steadfastly searching for the causes and treatments of autism.
When I photograph people in the autism community, I spend 10 to 20 minutes just chatting, helping them become comfortable and developing the moment when we’re connecting – when they’re revealing some inner part of themselves to me.
It’s been interesting to discover that having the camera between us somehow eases our conversation, regardless of where the person is on the autism spectrum. I typically make several hundred frames of each person. Sometimes it’s a subtle glance that proves the most revealing.
Our daughter has an autism spectrum disorder. Our son has sensory processing issues. And I know I’m an undiagnosed Aspie. So our family is aware of the challenges that autism can present every day.
The Facing Autism project is both a way to honor those who are rising to this challenge and a call to action. Please visit my website, www.christophergauthier.com, to view more photos of these amazing people, and leave a message if you would like to learn more about the project. I am always looking for local organizations that are interested in partnering with me in expanding its reach. It’s great to be connecting with the Autism Speaks community.
Evidence and Artifacts: Facing Autism is a long-term photographic project documenting the growing number of individuals, families and invested teachers, therapists, advocates, doctors and researchers on the front lines fighting the debilitating characteristics of autism spectrum disorders. Facing Autism is both a call to action, and a way to honor those who are rising to the challenge autism presents everyday.
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. According to the late Child Psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Greenspan MD, “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.” 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 is defined behaviorally, as a syndrome of abnormalities involving language, social reciprocity and hyperfocus or reduced behavioral flexibility. It is clearly heterogeneous, and it can be accompanied by unusual talents as well as impairments, but its underlying biological and genetic basis is unknown. 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. We believe 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.
Evidence and Artifacts evolved from environmental spaces poisoned by toxicity, to the affected human beings, which reside in those spaces. We began this project in a desire to move past merely raising awareness about autism to taking an active role in shaping the national dialogue about the role the environment plays in human health and 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.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” – Robert F. Kennedy