Monday 20 January 2020

An insight into the lives of families with experience of autism

It’s Me But It Isn’t Me by Derek Dodebier.
It’s Me But It Isn’t Me by Derek Dodebier.
Focus by Martina Berry.
Dinner In an Autism Household by Martina Berry.
Jumping For Joy by Michelle Cogley.

Maria Pepper

Images of life in families with experience of autism are contained in a collection of photographs produced by members of Cottage Autism Network (CAN) following their participation in a community education programme supported by the Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board (WWETB).

Nine members of CAN, most of them parents and one young man who has autism, took part in a photography course over a number of months with adult education tutor Kristin Gray at the WWETB premises in Ardcavan and on location, resulting in the exhibition 'Images of Autism', which went on display at Wexford Library and is also due to be shown in other venues.

The exhibition, which was officially opened in the library by the Mayor of Wexford Cllr Tony Dempsey with photographer Jim Campbell as guest speaker, is accompanied by a booklet which outlines different aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorder while raising awareness of some of the challenges faced by those living with it.

The photography course was organised to create a space for parents and family members in which to interact and learn a new skill, according to Ms Gray, and it resulted in a powerful collection of images that is hoped will help encourage understanding and acceptance of autism in the community.

Those who took part are Veronica Doocey, Suzanne Connolly, Joe Busher, Michelle Cogley, Rosemarie Doyle, Derek Dodebier, Martina Berry, Maeve Tumulty and Bobby Devereux.

Community education facilitator Sarah Lavan described it as 'a beautiful, honest and eclectic collection of images depicting everyday life in autism families'.

'We hope it will help foster awareness, understanding and acceptance of people on the autistic spectrum', she said.

CAN chairperson Catherine Cleary said the number of people diagnosed with ASD is increasing so it is important to create awareness in the wider community. 'Many people with autism are described as "visual thinkers" so it is apt to use visual images to explore and communicate the diverse nature of autism,' she said, thanking Kristin Gray for the 'enthusiasm and passion' she brought to the project.

Participant Martina Berry, who took the photograph 'Dinner in an autism household', explained that her son eats cereal while the rest of the family have dinner. He doesn't eat hot food and while it is something they are used to, it raises eyebrows when they eat out. 'But to us - and more importantly to him - this is normal,' she said.

Suzanne Connolly's photograph 'Bright lights... feels like big city' represents how regular lighting like car and streets lights can often be too bright for some people with autism and can leave them with a momentary blur.

Artist Derek Dodebier said he was glad of the opportunity to explore photography for the first time and portray some very specific issues that he experiences as an autistic person. He said the photograph 'It's me but it isn't me' represents the trouble he has in perceiving himself, often inserting a character from any media in his mind. 'Sometimes I look into the mirror to remind myself what I look like,' he said.

His photograph 'I'm Here But Not Here (Derealisation)' reflects how after sitting in one place for a long time, he sometimes gets the sense that the world around isn't actually real. He posed with his hands on a wall, as during these moments he runs his hand over any nearby surfaces to bring him back down to earth.

Rosemarie Doyle chose an image of her son walking alone in the woods to represent the fact that he is on a long journey that no one else can make for him. 'We are behind him all the way, supporting him, encouraging him at every step but this little boy needs to find the courage and determination to keep moving forwards when it might just be easier to sit down', she said.

Joe Busher took a photograph of his nine-year-old son Ky walking in snow. Ky who was diagnosed with autism four and a half years ago, had never really seen snow before and the image shows his feelings of wonder and excitement at how deep it is and how he had to try so hard to walk on it.

Michelle Cogley whose daughter Grace was diagnosed with autism about two years ago, took the photograph 'Gentle hands'. 'Grace has autism but that is just one part of her', said Michelle. 'She is also caring and compassionate, especially towards her sister Ciara. She has a big heart and loves helping others. Her sister is afraid of spiders and Grace gently guides her sister's hand to help her overcome her fears.'

Cottage Autism Network offers support to people affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families, The Community Education programme of WWETB promotes informal learning that contributes to the development of the local community. Grants and tutor hours are available to community groups.

Wexford People

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