An Artistic Celebration of Autism Acceptance
April is Autism Acceptance Month, and acceptance means community inclusion. The city of Novi, Michigan, is celebrating autism acceptance with a photography exhibit by a local artist—my son, Malcolm. He specializes in nature photography from our frequent hikes.
Author and activist Dr. Temple Grandin often advises families to develop an autistic child’s special interests into life skills and career skills, but it isn’t always clear how to go about this. In my son’s case, I was able to combine his interests in mechanical devices and maps while satisfying his need to exercise. We went for long hikes where he became focused on finding trail markers. I gave him a camera so that he could record the trail markers and start to look around at natural features.
The camera was difficult for him to use at first, even with autofocus, but he persevered. Within a few years, he was producing stunning close-ups of flowers, trees and water. I helped him enter some of the photos in school contests … and he won.
As with other life skills, the learning process began with his interest and required plenty of hands-on support at first. Gradually I removed supports until Malcolm was able to do the task independently. Now he is studying photography in school and learning how to compose and develop photos the old-fashioned way.
I think that acceptance is only possible when we try to understand another person’s point of view. Recently I presented my son with a list of questions about his exhibit and autism acceptance. He typed his own responses and gave me permission to share them here. My son’s answers highlight lessons about the importance of respect and inclusion.
Karen Wang: How did you become interested in photography?
Malcolm Wang: I like to press buttons on cameras. I like to look at pictures. I decided to take photographs when I was in sixth grade.
KW: What other types of buttons do you like to press?
MW: I like to press elevator buttons. I like to press washing machine and dishwasher buttons when I do chores. I like to flip light switches also.
KW: What types of awards have you won?
MW: I have won the Award of Excellence from the National PTA in the Reflections Art Competition in the Special Artist Category in 2016. In 2017, I won the Michigan PTA’s Award of Excellence.
KW: Who are your favorite artists and which museums do you like best?
MW: My favorite artists are Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. I like the Detroit Institute of Arts and University of Michigan Museum of Art.
KW: Why are those your favorite?
MW: I like to learn about famous artists. I learned about them in elementary school.
KW: How did you prepare for this exhibit?
MW: Last summer, I made a digital portfolio, a collection of photos. I filled out an application with an artist’s statement for the city of Novi. When my application was accepted, I had to make a large amount of photos. I framed and wired and signed the photos.
KW: What did you write about in your artist’s statement for this exhibit?
MW: I wrote about how much I love photography. I wrote, “I think that it would be a good idea to celebrate Autism Awareness Month in April 2017 by displaying art by a person with autism.”
KW: Why is this exhibit at the Novi Civic Center important to you?
MW: Because I love photography and I am sharing art with a lot of people.
KW: What other hobbies or activities do you enjoy?
MW: I enjoy hiking, doing Excel spreadsheets, reading, riding roller coasters, and exercise.
KW: What are your plans for the future?
MW: My plans for the future are to prepare for the gallery reception. After high school, I want to go to a community college. I want to have a job someday and live in a condo.
KW: What does autism acceptance mean to you?
MW: It means I say, “Yes, I have autism.” It means other people should try to help people who need extra help.
KW: Do you feel accepted in your local community?
MW: Yes, because I have friends and people who take care of me.
Autism acceptance means meeting individuals where they stand and embracing their uniqueness. The City of Novi will feature Malcolm’s exhibit in the Civic Center Atrium from April 3 until April 28 at 451275 West Ten Mile Road, Novi, Michigan. How will you celebrate autism acceptance?