Autistic Teen Finds Voice Through Photography

Marj Hatzell
12

cameraAfter not being able to speak his entire life, a Seattle teen has found a way to express himself in an interesting way. Forrest Sargent is a nonverbal autistic teen who has aggressive tendencies and uses a letter board as his primary means of communication. For years, his family said they didn't know if there was anyone inside of Forrest, that they didn't know his name or favorite color or if he was hurting or sad. He can't cross streets by himself and needs help putting his shoes on the right feet. A camera for Christmas proved something profound to his family and everyone else: Not being able to speak isn't the same as not having anything to say.

In this world, some disabled people are written off  for not being able to contribute or being a burden to society. They are never given a chance to shine. They are never expected to amount to much. They are limited by their diagnoses and the people who assume their care. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy for some, they only do what they are expected to do. And when the expectations aren't very high, what do you think you will get? Expect someone with a disability to do nothing and they will do nothing. Open up a new world for them and expect them to reach their potential and they will, if given the opportunity.

That camera opened a whole new world for Forrest. He now has a show at his aunt's gallery. His family is relieved and thrilled that he has taken on photography because they realize that being able to express himself will give him a better life. Communication is one of the most basic needs of human beings and yet so many with special needs do not have access to it, for whatever reason.

Forrest Sargent photos
Forrest Sargent's photos
Without being able to express themselves, some children and adults become increasingly frustrated and angry. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Can you imagine if you were 10 years old and it was time to get up for school? Now imagine you had a sore throat that day. How would you tell your parents that you were running a fever? Or needed to stay in bed? Or wanted a drink? You'd be frustrated and miserable. What if you were hungry? Or cold? Or your feet hurt? How would you tell them? This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of this complex issue.

My husband and I have an 8-year-old nonverbal child. We have used a combination of sign language, talking picture books, and Picture Exchange Communication System for the past six years. Our son is just getting to the point where he can retrieve a picture or sign to show us what he wants. Sometimes, when he isn't clear or we can't understand him, it isn't pretty. He is angry, he tantrums, he cries, he bites himself. All because he can't always express it to us when he needs something. Can you imagine not being able to speak to communicate? Can you imagine how hard a child like my son has to work just to get his basic needs met? And yet he keeps trying and keeps smiling. What he goes through every single day of his life? Makes my issues seem like such small potatoes. But we know one thing for sure: He always has something to say, even if he can't speak. And he'll say it, in his time.

Maybe I'll get him a camera for Christmas.

 

Image via Marj Hatzell and KOMO News

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