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My Autistic Experience; Disability In Photographs

By Reni Mackintosh

Being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world will always have challenges. When discussing the depiction of disability, a lot of academic texts do not concern with the inherent culture or history of those with autism spectrum disorder, instead we find discourse and discussions by non-disabled parties about the politics of autistic identities. Alternatively, these texts are an exercise of a medical model, pedestaling this idea that autism is a condition that is a deficit that needs to be cured and eradicated

There is no room for us autistic individuals in these academic discussions; we aren’t always listened to, and it’s frustrating. I knew I wanted to counteract the lack of personal perspective on autism spectrum disorder with an extremely personal body of work that deeply resonates with my experiences as an autistic person; a lot of this portraiture photography is reminiscent of the work and self-photography by photographers such as Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe and Cindy Sherman. I was inspired by Arbus for the depiction of non-conventional subjects and emphasis of oddities, Mapplethorpe for the voyeuristic vibe paired with the low lighting and darker colour tones, and Sherman for the sensationalism and the blurring of reality.

This portfolio is a focus on how autism spectrum disorder heightens certain experiences of mine in an unapologetic fashion, and that the autistic experience goes beyond the ‘quirks’ shown in mainstream media. With these photos, I wanted to demonstrate that a lot of fatigue around being autistic doesn’t come from the condition itself, and the aim of these photos isn’t to convey the negatives. The fatigue comes from the stigma that comes with being on the spectrum, especially when you’re not a cisgender heterosexual male with extreme intellect, which is the neurotypical understanding of ASD in contemporary media.

I think that portraiture photography is a healthy medium to exercise elements of personhood and identity, and compile these complicated feelings into a single image. The autistic experience is multi-faceted and intricate, and no autistic experience is the same. All we can do is be mindful of this going forward, listen to autistic voices and not let large corporations speak over us, and then hopefully, we can make strides for more understanding and acceptance.