New Brunswick

Kate Mouland's photos show autistic child's view of world

Photographs taken by five-year-old girl give Shannell and Alex Mouland some insight into what their autistic daughter is thinking.

Parents of 5-year-old autistic girl say her photographs give them insight to what she's thinking

Two parents from Quispamsis say committing an expensive digital SLR camera to its inevitable destruction was worth it because of the way it's helped them connect with their autistic daughter.

Shanell and Alex Mouland say they've seen a lot of growth in their five-year-old daughter's language skills over the past year.

But Shanell Mouland admits there's a lot she still doesn't understand about what her daughter Kate is thinking.

"I'm not entirely sure what she's thinking," she says.

"Looking at these pictures really gives us some insight into what she's thinking when we're out doing something."

Kate Mouland with her digital SLR camera. (Matthew Bingley / CBC)
Originally, Mouland bought the camera for herself, thinking it would be a good hobby.

However, as many parents can relate, when there's an expensive and delicate gadget around the house, kids often want a chance to play with it. At first Mouland resisted, before giving in. And she's glad she did.

"As I was flipping through them, I thought, 'This is so interesting, she's actually focusing on things I would never think to focus on,'" she says.

One of the traits of autism, she points out, is a focus on smaller details that individuals not on the autism spectrum may not notice.

So when Kate takes a portrait, she will often focus on a person's mouth and avoid including their eyes.

"Very rarely it would be your eyes because it's really hard for her to look at. And children and adults on the spectrum have a hard time making eye contact," says Mouland.

"So you might get a big picture of your smile and you might not love that, but that's how she sees you."

Going viral

Mouland has written a blog about her family and their experiences with Kate's autism for years.

A post called "Dear 'Daddy' In Seat 16C Flight 1850 From Philly" about an unlikely encounter with a passenger sitting next to them made international news after it went viral.

This photo of Oakley drying off after a dip in the Bay of Fundy is the one her mother is most proud of. (Kate Mouland)
The blog post was an open letter thanking a man sitting next to them on a trip back from Orlando.

At first Mouland was nervous the smartly dressed businessman would react negatively to her daughter's behaviour. After Kate began to rub the man's suit and call him "Daddy," he shocked Mouland by engaging her daughter in conversation.

"So, thank you. Thank you for not making me repeat those awful apologetic sentences that I so often say in public," wrote Mouland.

"Thank you for entertaining Kate so much that she had her most successful plane ride, yet. And, thank you for putting your papers away and playing turtles with our girl."

Mouland says she's posted some of Kate's photos on the blog and has received some positive reaction.

'She moved in and took a shot'

Kate loves taking photos of whatever or whomever is in front of her. Because she's in constant motion, her mother has set the camera to the action mode. 

It keeps things in focus and helped capture Mouland's favourite photo her daughter has taken so far.

"The one of our dog, shaking the water off at the beach down at the nature park," recalls Mouland, of a trip to the Irving Nature Park in Saint John.

Kate has a service dog named Oakley — and when the yellow lab emerged from a dip in the Bay of Fundy, everyone ran away from him. Everyone but Kate.

"All the adults backed away because they knew what he was about to do. And she moved in and took a shot," says Mouland.

"I think it is beautiful. I really think it's a well done shot and a lot of people would love to have it. It's gorgeous. So that's the one I'm most proud of for her and probably one of her favourites too."

Kate put her camera down long enough to pat Oakley and hold a reporter's microphone. (Matthew Bingley / CBC)
Kate's father Alex admits he doesn't have a favourite photo his daughter has taken. He long ago realized that what might interest him, doesn't appeal to his daughter.

But what he really enjoys, is seeing what does interest her.

"She's sort of constantly taking pictures and my favourite picture is probably the image in my head of her taking pictures," he says.

"It's fantastic to watch her experience the world and really get into it."

Alex Mouland also came to terms a long time ago, that Kate will likely break her current camera. While he's considered getting her something more durable, if the camera shatters, it's worth it.

"If it's something she's interested in and she breaks it, it's probably worth it."

Just how far the energetic five-year-old decides to go with photography is still up in the air.

Shanell Mouland notes that many people on the autism spectrum remain intently focused on certain aspects of life.

One thing her daughter has maintained an interest in for some time is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Mouland thinks if her daughter can continue on this path, she could one day become a great photographer.

For now though, they're happy seeing the, "The world according to Kate."


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