What's in a meme?
There is so much talk about Autism as an "invisible disability"
You cannot diagnose autism from a picture or photograph.
However... Something I've noticed over and over again about taking pictures of my son is the things you can see.
The first picture is fairly recent. It was taken at the California Science Center in Los Angeles about three months ago. It wasn't staged or posed and I didn't realize how great a picture (or how much it says) it was until I was downloading it to the computer a few days later. I love the way he is standing away from the crowd and the light is shining on him... a spotlight, or angelic aura, emphasizing his hair color.
The second was taken by a friend at a birthday party when Jack was 3. He was still in the process of being diagnosed (or at least we were still in the process). As a side note, this was the party that a complete stranger said to me "When I'm not drinking at my grandson's birthday party, I'm a psychologist. I just want you (Julie and I) to know... You deserve to be here. He deserves to be here"
( I wrote about that initial encounter before, you can read it here)
I've never spoken to the man that said that to me since, but I remain close with his daughter and her husband. They are an incredible family.
And to "Rachel's" father... I am eternally grateful for the words I needed to hear. Grateful for the words I've stolen as my own whenever I meet a new autism family. Words I tell myself and my son when we're not doing so well at the restaurant, or in the classroom, or at OT...
I lost track of my post.
In taking hundreds of pictures of the boy, I've noticed a few similarities in his pictures.
Lack of Eye Contact
This is an easy one, almost cliche. It is always a challenge to get Jack to look at a camera. It's a challenge to get my 4 year-old to look at the camera too, but she eventually (even if reluctantly) always will. You just have to hope you're catching the right time with the boy.
Notice how straight his back is in both pictures. It's a very unnatural stance (especially for a child that is constantly moving). Pay attention to Jack's feet in the first one. He's standing on his heels. We talk about "tippy-toe" walking a lot with our kids... do you know why? Here's why. Many of our children have poor proprioceptive processing (a Sensory Processing Disorder). They have difficulty knowing where their body is in space. If I close my eyes, put my hand out, and wiggle my fingers, I still know where my hand is, what it is doing, and how to manipulate it (proprioception). When your body becomes "blurry" in space, you will counteract by placing the least amount of your body against the stimuli as possible... hence the "tippy-toe" walking... hence the "finger flicking"... hence the "walk-walking" with one finger... hence the fine motor tool aversion (a fork, or a pencil).
This is the dead giveaway. When I was younger, I did a lot of acting. One of the first things they teach you about being on stage is what to do with your hands. Take a look at the hands in both pictures. Constantly seeking reception or stimulation.
What I would like to point out, therapeutically, is how far he's come in 4 years. OTs work on this crazy little thing we call Proprioceptive Processing Disorder. They work to desensitize the "lost" sensation. They work to ground it. At 7, Jack holds his hands together to ground them. At 3... it was all flaps and flicks.
Pull up a few pictures of your kids... Do you see these things too? So, no, it's true that you cannot diagnose autism from a picture or photograph... but sometimes you can see it.