“I always had a happy life…I never had a sad life before, but sometimes I get confused–I struggle a little bit,” says my now 20-year-old brother, Liam, at our grandmother’s apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan.
In 2014 I began photographing my brother’s day-to-day life, to try and better understand how he sees the world. At an early age, Liam was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Liam’s World focuses on depicting a more faithful portrayal of living with autism. Each image contains a handwritten caption by Liam, describing his thoughts and feelings. Having Liam write his own captions allows him to have authority over how his story is shared.
This work has helped me to better understand who my brother is as a person, and how he exists in the world. Liam’s World aims to amplify my brother’s voice, and it also inspires people living with disabilities to share their own stories.
Featuring: Erin Lefevre
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Erin Lefevre is a documentary photographer from New York City whose work focuses on under-reported social issues. Erin studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she earned her Associate degree in Photography. She then transferred to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. Erin is currently working towards her Master’s degree in Education, at Pace University in New York City.
Erin got her start in photojournalism by interning at MLive, The Muskegon Chronicle in Michigan, and other newspapers throughout the Midwest. After her internships, she began her freelance career. Erin has also worked as a photo editor, and taught photography to middle and high students with the Brooklyn Public Library, International Center of Photography, and Community Heroes. She currently works as a Special Education public school teacher in District 75.
Her work appears in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the British Journal of Photography, Huffington Post, and ProPublica, amongst others. Accolades of her work include the Wellcome Photography Prize 2019, Getty Images Creative Bursary Grant 2018, and the 2017 Missouri Photo Workshop Spirit of the Workshop award.
EDUCATION DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What do you know about autism? Do you see anything in the images that confirms or contradicts what you know?
Who is speaking through the text on the images? How does that text change your understanding of the photos?
Is it possible to photograph something that is invisible to the eye? If so, how?
General Autism Information:
Housing for Autistic People:
Support Groups for Neurotypical Siblings:
Autism-Friendly Extracurricular Programs:
Special Education Resources:
Medical Care & Benefits:
- Listen to autistic people. Neurotypical people are not experts on autism and shouldn’t speak over autistic people. It is important to center autistic voices and listen to their opinions, experiences, and feelings.
- Stop using ableist language. Words like “r*traded” are slurs that are commonly used within society despite having a deep and painful history for people with disabilities. Eliminate these slurs from your vocabulary and encourage others to do the same.
- Hire autistic people. People on the autism spectrum have an abundance of unique talents, perspectives, skills, and work ethics that make them valuable assets in the workplace.
- Shop at businesses that are operated / staffed by people who have autism. Many vocational training programs for autistic adults are scarce and under-funded. Consumers can help support the livelihood of autistic adults by supporting autism-friendly businesses and creators.
- Educate yourself. There is an abundance of free content online where you can learn more about autism and share what you learned with others.
- Donate to organizations with autistic leaders. Avoid for-profit autism organizations that promote misinformation or do not allocate most of their funding to helping autistic people. Look for organizations led by autistic people / organizations that actively involve autistic people and spend most of their funding on programs, education, and resources for people on the spectrum.
- Call out ableism when you see it. Inform someone if they are using language that is discriminatory against people with disabilities, are spreading information that has been disproved by science, or are actively excluding people with disabilities.
- Stop forcing autistic people to conform to neurotypical ideals. Suppressing autistic needs, invalidating the experiences of people with autism, or teaching autistic people that they need to “act normal” is damaging to autistic people’s mental health.
- Support people who work in Special Education. Schools that teach students with disabilities are amongst the most underfunded and experience the most teacher shortages. This disproportionately impacts students with disabilities, especially students of color and students from working-class and low-income households. Ask special education professionals how you can support them and their students, and protest budget cuts to education.
- Vote. Federal funding is crucial for providing resources and education that people with autism need both in schools and society. Ask your elected officials about their policies regarding special education and support for disabled adults. Vote accordingly. If you are unable to vote, consider volunteering on campaigns for politicians who center disability rights on their platform, donating to campaigns if you can, or sharing what you know with people who are able to vote.
Autism – Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a chronic disorder that impairs communication and social interaction. Common symptoms include (but are not limited to) difficulty with social interactions, communication, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors.
Stimming – Short for self-stimulatory behavior, are repetitive motions, actions, and/or sounds that autistic people do to help regulate sensory overload, soothe, and express their emotions. Stimming can look like many different things, but some common examples of stimming include: hand flapping, rocking, jumping, repeating noises and words, snapping fingers, etc.
Neurotypical – A term that is used to describe people who do not have autism or any developmental and/or learning disabilities.
Neurodiversity – A term that refers to groups of people with different neurotypes.
Masking – Learned behavior an autistic person uses in social settings to hide the fact they are autistic. Masking can be many different things, including: hiding autistic behaviors that are viewed as socially inappropriate, imitating gestures, forcing facial expressions, pre-preparing jokes/phrases/topics for conversations, and imitating eye contact during conversations. Women on the autism spectrum are four times more likely to mask than men. Masking has been proven to be harmful to the long-term wellbeing of individuals with ASD.
Ableism – A form of discrimination that favors people who are able-bodied and do not have disabilities. This belief is rooted in the assumption that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and defines people by their disability.
Ableist – A term used to refer to people, social systems, language, and laws that discriminate against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.
“Person-first” language – Often advocated by neurotypicals, terminology that centers the person before the diagnosis. For example: “I have autism” or “person with autism.”
“Identity-first” language – Often advocated by autistic people, terminology that recognizes the disability as an important part of the person’s identity. For example: “I am autistic” or “Autistic person.”
- 1 in 54 children in the United States will be diagnosed with autism, according to a 2020 report released by the CDC
- Researchers believe that genetics and environmental risks are contributing factors in what causes autism, but still do not know exactly what causes autism – however, studies have continuously proven that vaccines do not cause autism
- Autism can be diagnosed as early as 24 months of age, but many people receive an autism diagnosis later in life for a variety of reasons
- Women, people of color, transgender, and gender non-conforming people are widely under-represented in autism research and conversations
- Males are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than females. This disparity does not mean males are not necessarily more susceptible to autism, but rather indicates inequities in female diagnoses
- Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder, and yet it is the most under-funded
- As of 2020, the United States ranks 3rd place in countries with the highest prevalence of autism on a global scale. South Korea came in 2nd and Hong Kong has the most cases of children on the autism spectrum
- It is possible for a family to have more than one child on the autism spectrum
- Autism is a chronic disorder that cannot be “cured.” Early intervention is important to ensuring that each autistic person receives the related-services they need
- Research indicates that while students of color are over-represented in special education classes, they are under-represented in autism diagnoses
- About 35% of people on the autism spectrum will go on to pursue higher education
- 85% of autistic adults will be unable to find gainful employment after graduating school, and rank lowest on employment statistics compared to people with other disabilities
- Twice as many young, white autistic adults will become employed (66%) compared to Black and Latino autistic adults (37% and 34% respectively)