Photo therapy provides individuals with autism, asperger's and communication disabilities a voice from which to speak. It has created a new avenue for expressive and receptive language, and gives visual form to feelings making the unseen visible.
Photo therapy also creates an opportunity to bypass verbal controls by providing these individuals with a new way to express and deconstruct information as well as retain it. It has become increasingly important to find new ways to communicate for those with communication disabilities, and the hope is that one day we will provide a solution that will not only alleviate their struggle to articulate, but eliminate the devastating impact it has taken on their ability to participate in society.
Photo therapy is proving to be an incredible and effective vehicle for individuals with autism, asperger's and communication disabilities. Although it is relatively new, the benefits and potential of photo therapy are already visible. Once the door of possibilities is opened, photo therapy will undoubtedly find its way into the practice of many doctors, scientists, and therapists alike.
Photo therapy has the potential to significantly impact the lives of those with autism, asperger's, and communication disabilities, and offer a transforming alternative to the loss of language. I believe it is my responsibility to help make this happen.
Photographs have been used in therapy for decades, and yet many people are still unaware of the health benefits and growth potential that they contain. Photographers however just like writers and other artists, have developed an understanding for and an appreciation of the therapeutic aspect contained within their craft. They are very aware of the tool within their hands and they use it well to convey meaning. Although the meaning itself will be interpreted differently by each individual, the message is the same. That message being “look closely because I have something to say”. Photographs in particular have a unique way of speaking symbolically. They communicate without words and convey feelings without touch.
Much like the photograph, children and adults living with autism also tend to convey their message without words and without touch. Two of ASD’s distinguished characteristics are severe impairments in communication and social interactions. Because of this, those with autism become frustrated with our lack of understanding and as a result aggressive with their behaviours. In order to bridge this gap, we need to find new ways for these individuals to communicate and express their emotions. Photographs have proven themselves very effective in doing just that.
Using photographs as a means of communication has opened the door to a new language and bridged the gap between these two worlds. The use of a single photograph now provides those with ASD with an opportunity to share an emotion, a thought, or a gesture; and when given the chance to create their own images, this new language becomes even stronger. In addition, the physical aspect of taking a photograph gives them a sense of purpose and importance, and the act of choosing which photographs to use instills confidence and reassurance. They become more aware of their surroundings and their own ability to communicate. Overall, photography itself contains many positive benefits when working with ASD and offers many creative ways to overcome the language barrier.
Children with nonverbal learning disorders (NLD) are often left dealing with the repercussions of a world that ceases to understand. They are faced with the realization that life beyond words exists only for those who are capable of asking for it, and that a voice without volume sadly creates silence. The frustration and rejection these children experience from their peers and society as a whole is disheartening, and the time has come when we must take responsibility for our lack of understanding and create a new means by which these children can express themselves.
The idea that a single thought or emotion could be captured or lay within the borders of a photograph has opened the door to the possibilities photography and photo therapy may have on children suffering with NLD. The potential a photograph has for bridging the gap between mind and matter has lead to new research around photography and photo therapy as an alternative means of communication for children with NLD. By providing these children with a visual language could in fact remove the pressure behind the need for a verbal one and the frustration around the lack of. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” takes on a whole new meaning when paired with children with NLD. Framed with emotion, the photograph has the potential to speak when these children cannot, and allow them to share their inner voice where language ceases to translate. This new research could change not only the way we look at this disorder, but also the way we don’t, opening up a world of opportunity and making a difference in the lives of so many children; moving us beyond the verbal barriers and into the realm of visual possibility.
Kelly Gauthier, D.V.A.T.I., BFA, Jan. 2009
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