IS AUTISM REALLY A PUZZLE? THE POWER OF A CAMERA

I thought my experience with this little boy (whose name I was unable to get) was very profound as it never involved “words” but the true understanding of non-verbal communication and the strength of understanding its power when dealing with someone diagnosed with Autism.

On April 2, 2013, JASA (Jamaica Autism Support Association) put on a presentation at UWI addressing the prevalence of Autism and research that had been done in Jamaica. There was a little boy there who notable made a lot of sounds which for some may have been highly distracting. I discovered later that he had Autism. I happened to have my camera with me taking pictures of the speakers. I saw him through the corner of my eye, etching his way over to me with smiling eyes but would return to where his mother sat. He repeated this action a couple of times. Finally he came over pointing to my camera lens. His ‘words’ sounded like babble but I understood it clearly. He was talking in the best way he could to me about the camera and wanting to play with it. This moment organically evolved as I naturally encouraged him to stand in front of me, placing the camera cord on his shoulders while we explored the camera allowing him to take pictures. He returned to his mom and funny enough he started making the loud sounds again. She immediately sent him back to where I was sitting, which I found amusing. He came over and we explored the camera some more with me telling him how to use the camera. My words may have been too complex but he stayed with me holding and using the camera. Eventually he returned to his mother but was noticeably quieter in his interaction with her.

Later on, I moved to the front of the room to take more pictures of Kathy Chang, Dr. Samms-Vaughan & Dr. Garbutt. We all could hear this little voice shouting (his words were not specific) and running up to where I sat. He came up to me still shouting and touched the camera. It was as if he was saying, “Lesli I want to see the camera”. I allowed him to explore it and took his hand and we walked to the banner entitled “April is Autism Awareness Month” and had him takes pictures with the camera. We returned to the presentation and he was extremely calm compared to before. This little boy was probably no more than three years old and had never met me before but somehow connected and “communicated” with me through the camera. While this may not have been an art therapy session, it was clearly an indication of the power and awareness needed to understand the different ways in which a person diagnosed with Autism may communicate. In this case the camera served as a powerful tool.

Lesli-Ann Belnavis, Art Therapist, Caribbean Tots to Teens