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Autism in the Culture: Photography, Video Games, and “Utopia”

One of the more compelling aspects of surveying news coverage is looking at local news outlets and how they cover autism in their communities. This week we’re looking at one particularly remarkable piece of local news alongside two stories about the roles of photography and video games in capturing and treating autism.

First up, in Knoxville, TN, a group of parents have gotten together to create what they hope will one day be a “utopia” for adults with autism who have aged out of the school system. The organization Autism Breakthrough of Knoxville, which has provided numerous in-home services for those with autism, is embarking on its largest undertaking yet in the construction of a neighborhood in South Knoxville.

Consisting of seven homes with an additional six supported in and around Knoxville with staff on hand to transport and provide 24-hours support for residents with autism. The neighborhood is a safe and economical housing option for area residents with autism who wish to live independently from their parents. According to Beth Ritchie, Executive Direct of Autism Breakthrough Knoxville, “We sat down and kind of dreamed what would be Utopia for our kids, and Breakthrough was born. Is it Utopia? No, not yet, [but] we’re trying to get there,” adding, “People think of autism more with little children but little children grow up and autism does not go away.”

Elsewhere, a new study is looking to further understand the connection between autism and video games and quantify the degree to which video games can benefit children with autism. University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Brittany Travers believes that video games can help children with autism to improve their motor skills, a belief that is shared by a number of app developers around the world.

In her research, Travers brings children into her lab and gives them each video game to play, testing their IQ and scanning their brains before and after the session. The results, which will be published later this year, are still unclear, but anecdotal evidence has indicated that they in fact improve functioning and well-being in children who play video games.

Finally, a professional photographer who is also the father of a two-year-old daughter with autism has embarked on a new photography project that documents the faces and lives of those with autism. The father, whose name is Glenn Gameson-Burrows from Wales, is seeking to raise awareness about and dispel common myths about autism. He first began taking pictures of his daughter Aneira, and then expanded his scope to other children.

“My hope is that these photographs will make people think,” the father said, adding that he wants others to realize that autism isn’t always visible. “A screaming child in your supermarket isn’t always a naughty child. A stressed-out parent isn’t a bad parent. A child lining things up, hiding objects, eating food in a strange manner or making strange noises isn’t uneducated or rude, just different.” By taking these candid and artful portraits of other children with autism, hopefully this dad will be able to effect real change.