Got a call from Portland Monthly Magazine to photography Victory Academy, Oregon’s only year-round school for autistic kids. Which left me feeling rather flattered and excited but also nervous as photographing people with Autism can be tricky and amazing and difficult and wonderful. No one yet fully understands why autism spectrum disorder occurs. Those with it often exhibit indifference to social engagements, an intent focus on a single object or subject, repetitive motions like rocking and biting themselves, and difficulty with verbal communication, among other traits. But every child on the spectrum—1 in 68 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—is also distinctly different: some are math geniuses or speed readers, others are unable to utter more than groans.
In my experience, there are many moments of extreme highs and lows when dealing with Autism, and not so much middle ground. Which pretty much summed up my day at the school. Instances of so much unguarded joy and wonder and moments so bittersweet that you immediately burst into tears (ok, maybe that was just me). These were immediately followed by biting and screaming and the incredibly awkward interactions that people on the spectrum are so good at manifesting. I was squeezed, questioned, ignored, hugged, tugged, looked at with great skepticism and with great welcome. It was basically just like being at a family reunion. And that is how Victory shakes out really, you are loved and accepted just the way you are. Or rather I should say; you are loved and accepted especially for the way you are.