Indigenous

Photo project aims to increase autism acceptance in this Kanien'kehá:ka community

Kanien’kehá:ka photographer Angel Horn wanted to do something special for World Autism Month.

Photographer Angel Horn wanted to do something special for World Autism Month

William Rice, 8, is one of many children from Kahnawake, Que., featured in a photography project for World Autism Month. (Angel Horn Photography)

Rebecca Scott wants her community — and beyond — to know that her son William is just like everyone else.

"He's no different," said Scott, who is from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

"He's more than his diagnosis. He deserves what everybody else gets, and he's awesome."

William has autism, a neuro-developmental disorder that impacts how a person communicates, and relates to people and the world around them. He is non-verbal and cannot tolerate certain smells, textures, bright lights or loud sounds, but is learning to communicate his wants and needs with Picture Exchange Cards or by using an iPad.

Increase understanding and acceptance

The eight-year-old is among dozens of Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) children and young adults featured in a photography project celebrating World Autism Month.

"It's exactly what it's like the families need," Scott said about the project.

"I want most of the community to know who he is."

Rebecca Scott and her oldest son, William. (Submitted by Rebecca Scott)

Photographer Angel Horn said the project is meant to help increase understanding and acceptance of individuals on the autism spectrum across Kahnawake. Throughout the month of April, she's been sharing a series of portraits on social media.

"I just want to show them happy and smiling," said Horn.

"I want to show them that they're the same as everybody else … They want to be included. They want to be happy."

Horn has photographed Scott's son many times over the years, and said her advocacy for autism is what inspired the project. She also hopes the photos will spark conversations about the challenges many of the families face.

"Every single parent that [participated] said they don't have enough resources," said Horn.

"A lot of them have to send their kids out of town to get the support and everything that they need."

Gaps in services

That was reality for Scott, when she made the decision last year to enrol William at Peter Hall School, a private school in Montreal for students aged four to 21 with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorders.

Scott said she's currently struggling to find a camp or activities for him this summer, as William is not old enough for programs that are available for developmental disabilities in the community, and programs targeting his age are not sensory-friendly.

It's an issue Deidre Diabo echoed. Diabo's four-year-old son Kroy is also featured in the project, as is her 20-year-old brother Bohdi. 

Kroy Goodleaf, 4, loves Thomas the Train, Paw Patrol and superhero capes. (Angel Horn Photography)

She said she hopes this project will help spark conversations about how to fill the gaps in services currently available, such has a need for respite care for families with younger children.

"I think we really do need more service. For us who have younger children, we don't have anything except for school," said Diabo.

"We have so many kids in the community, it's nice to give them a little shout out, like, 'Hey, we're here, we're part of this community.'"

Bohdi Goodleaf, 20, likes to ride his bike around Kahnawake, and enjoys hanging out at the Young Adults Program, which is a day program for Kahnawake adults aged 19 and older with physical and/or developmental disabilities. (Angel Horn Photography)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.

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