Autism photographic competition winner


A beautiful picture of a child running across the beach has won the top award in the 50th birthday photography competition of the National Autistic Society.

The picture was taken by Melanie Garside and shows her seven-year-old son Dewi who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.

"This photo is just one of those beautiful 'blink and you'll miss it' moments: a moment of pure joy," says Melanie. "We'd been walking and walking, looking for a beach with just a paper map to guide us. We'd almost given up hope when we turned a corner to stumble upon this deserted paradise - the white sands and turquoise water took our breath away."

What's wonderful about this picture is that, apart from being very well taken it is also the type of picture many families have in their photo albums - a child enjoying life and exploring the world. Yet as with many pictures, there is much more to it than that.

"For me, the photo shows how Dewi can find such joy in his own company, by making a friend out of his shadow," says Melanie. "He's a really happy little chap, he just loves nature, bugs, beaches and exploring the wilds alongside his shadow.

"What you don't see in the picture is that behind the camera, the rest of the family are all together, playing a big game of cricket. Dewi isn't taking part as his autism means he can find group activities or being around others difficult.

"This picture makes me so proud of him. It was Dewi's way of capitalising on our island idyll. There are no footprints in the photo - it's just Dewi in flight, at peace with himself. "What Dewi knows though is that there is a whole family who love him there, right behind him, watching his back.

"Friendships can be hard for many people with autism. What amazes me is Dewi's ability to do what so many others in our world can find so difficult - his ability to find a friend in himself."

James with Mr Elephant

Another picture that was selected from the shortlist, this time in a public vote, was a delightful photograph titled, Mr Elephant and James. Yet again it was taken on the beach, a place of wonder for all children, by James' mum, Annie Elliott.

"This is a photo that encapsulates one of the most extraordinary friendships I have ever seen," says Annie. "James struggles with children his age and usually prefers to be on his own. He has trouble relating to the world around him and can be quite fearful of unfamiliar places.

"That's why it was such a huge surprise when we were out one day shopping and he just lunged out to grab Mr Elephant from the shelf. Ever since that day, they have been inseparable. Mr Elephant has become not only James' best friend, but also his guide to the world. If Mr Elephant goes somewhere that James fears, James is more likely to follow suit. James won't hold hands with people, so Mr Elephant can go in the middle to connect James with other people in his world."

"The day this photo was taken was the first time we had ever managed to take James to the beach - in the past he'd just been too nervous. But this time, we had Mr Elephant on our side. We spent a whole two hours in the sun and it was just the most joyous family day. Now, when I look back at this photo, I see nothing but contentment between two best friends.

"This picture itself even has its own part to play in the story. Since we took it, James has used the picture to learn how to say his own name and looking back at the picture, far from fearing a trip to the seaside, he can't wait to go again."

The competition shows how photography can be used to do far more than simply record a moment. "Judging this photo competition gave us an incredibly valuable glimpse of some of those special experiences and unique moments in time that mean so much to families whose lives are touched by autism," says photographer John Swannell, one of the judges. "I was delighted by the real feeling of positivity and hope that shone through in so many of the entries."

Another judge, Jay Blue, an amateur photographer and autistic writer and poet adds, "I am really pleased that so many of the entries in this competition challenged some of the common misconceptions that go with autism. These photos will strike a chord with so many people whose lives are touched by autism. The entries illustrate emotion, friendship, joy and, ultimately, humanity, it its many guises."

Here are some more of the pictures that were short listed for the award.

Jay with his cousin Kobi and Amy Melodie Blake: "This is a picture of my youngest son Jay with his cousin Kobi and Amy. They are the beautiful best friends of my son Kai, who has autism. This was taken one sunny January day when we were out on the downs but Kai actually isn't in the photo - he's running around somewhere just off camera. It's one of the places that he feels free, and he loves to run, so we take him there a lot."
Clarice with her dog Coco Susan Child: "Clarice is the only one of our children who hasn't got any medical complications. But, living with two brothers with autism can be hard on her too. She can't do 'normal' things like have friends over for tea, we don't really go on days out and we've never been able to take the kids through the upheaval of a family holiday. Siblings of children with autism can often be forgotten. This photo shows Clarice's own struggle, and her beautiful, dignified way of finding solace."
Maisie sharing a special Christmas moment with her late great-grandmother Nicola Brooke: "This photograph captures a really special moment for my family. For me, it shows that age is no barrier to friendship. I can get quite emotional looking at the photo. Lellys was a wonderful lady and she always went the extra mile during the festive season - we called her the Queen of Christmas. Since grandma passed away, I've put the photo up in our kitchen and look at it every day."
Marnix and Lucas Fleur Scholey: "For me this photo says that despite autism, you should never underestimate your children, ever. You do start to self-doubt and think things won't progress or change, but look at these two friends, singing in the rain. Absolutely amazing kids."
Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The term "autistic photography" on the link page here bugs me. It carries the implication of a freak show or the idea that it is unusual for autism to be associated with creativity.

    I'm all for the NAS's contest and activities, but it seems mainstream society still need to see that autistic people can do anything and do it well.

    In this modern world its sad that understanding remains primitive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Girl and boy diagnosed, multi discipline set up with more than 7 professionals. High functioning boy capable of complex physics but still has many difficulties, can't write and eats with hands, even beans. Daughter very bright but uses me as 'voice', now just happy to leave the house. Label? Hmmm. They don't see their problems, neither do I...I wonder if a photo will help you to understand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Pictures I'd like to see: an autistic friend graduating top of her class as a mature student; myself, autistic, volunteering for Oxfam, now in my fifth year, also an OU student; an autistic friend twho was the first autistic on the board of trustees of National Autistic Society and now a PhD student; those who run the annual by & for autistics event Autscape. Etc.

    Autistic achievement!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Nice to see a good news item on Autism. Not all of us can count cards or toothpicks. After all, if I could count cards, I would almost certainly be "sunning it up" somewhere.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    I have autism (relatively mild, presently dx'd AS but this will change with DSM-V) and while I welcome this effort, it really doesn't help all the autistics whose lives have been impaired by lack of early, effective support, or those whose needs are on an entirely different tier to just basic assistance, for higher-functioning autists tend to have a different repertoire of needs altogether.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Simon James
    I agree with you to some degree in what you are saying but, if this article encourages people without much knowledge of Autism to see what the condition is about, it can only be for the good. It will help to introduce people to subject of Autism.
    My 5 year old son is Autistic and while i can understand your comment. I don't think this article is trying to sanitize Autism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @32 JohnnieBoy

    LOL. You said pretty much what I was going to say. Then I looked at your name and realised you'd been there too. If you want to nip round and do my laundry, feel free...

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Beautiful photos; incredibly moving - as are people's comments (on the whole). It's something lots of people have no idea about (including me) - this gives a poignant glimpse into their struggle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Autism is a broad spectrum. There are high functioning people who have a chance of a normal life, with assistance. Others have no chance of any independent life at all.

    My daughter, 15, is in the latter group. A photo series would capture happy moments but also her incontinence and injuries to her mum.

    Despite very good intentions, these photos sanitise autism as an issue for the wider public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Outstanding and very moving series of photos; well worth a browse. As someone who teaches on praying through the lens of a camera, I find this a very good illustration of the link between photography and spirituality, so easy to access, so profound.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    This article and the pictures were so beautiful I have tears in my eyes. Some of the most amazing people I know are on the autistic spectrum and are fantistic inspirations. Autistic children, and the adults they become may have barriers to many aspects of a "normal" life, but when they find their neiche they excell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    What beautiful pictures, I love Mr elephant.

    Dr Johnie - Your comment an insult to those people who work so hard to make sure ASD is correctly diagnosed.
    My son and 2 daughters have autism; the diagnosis of each was after extensive 'testing'.
    Living with ASD is hard enough without people saying it is just an excuse.
    Is my sons depression and psychosis, due to autism, just an excuse as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I very rarely read messages and think "oh great" and when I read the text, I say "oh damn". I read the title thinking the photo competition was for people with autism who have taken photos themselves. It would be fascinating to see the world through their eyes. Instead, I read the text that the photo was taken by a child's mother. It is a lovely photo but let people with autism have a voice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    mrspoyser - well said. Dr Johnnie - despite common, ignorant belief, autism is not diagnosed freely or easily. My Son was diagnosed 5 years ago after a year of being observed twice a week at a specialist centre. He was assessed by around 7 different experts (from speech and language to occupational therapists) and those same specialists all had to agree that a diagnosis of ASD was appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    kids are being diagnosed with autism because they meet a lot of criteria, google triad of impairments, whats harder than dealing with autism all day is dealing with people who constantly discredit it, please educate yourself before passing judgement. environmental inadequacies isnt going to get you a diagnosis of autism....

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Lovely, lovely photographs. Just stunning. Big up the kids! Mr. Elephant is my favourite, though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    to put a few people right, Autism isnt a label its a diagnosis, a life changing one most people are so relieved to have because it means so much, imagine not being able to touch your child because they scream, or a child who is intelligent but can not talk at last you have a reason and access to support. Dr.jonnie.'real autism' really? kids with behaviuor issues arent being diagnosed with autism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Lovely pictures. The thoughts & stories of the photographer behind the pictures are what make these special to the Autistic Society and their community. It is a lovely platform to help share the positive and individual side of autism and living with autism. Sufferers see a different pespective of the world, we need to take time to hear the story behind their view to understand their perspective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I just see children doing what children do. Such a shame they have to have a label.


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