Stunning photos could change the way you see children with autism

by Theresa Edwards
Feb 9, 2016 at 3:13 p.m. ET

How do you describe a child with autism? In the past, the words the world has used have not always been kind, and even as we learn more and more about autism spectrum disorder, the new language around ASD still leaves out one very important thing: the children themselves. Too often when we talk about ASD, we resort to describing the disorder and not the people. Glenn Gameson-Burrows knows firsthand how stereotypes and myths can deter from the conversation: His own daughter Aneira was diagnosed with ASD. What better way to show people the person behind the diagnosis than to, well... show them? The dad and photographer shared his stunning series of photos with SheKnows to do just that.

1/16 :The Magpie Project

That's just what Gameson-Burrows set out to do with his Magpie photo series. The project's name has a personal origin; he calls his little girl Magpie, named for the bird with an affinity for shiny objects

2 /16: Seeing the world a little differently

2/16 :Seeing the world a little differently

He notes on the Facebook page that serves as a home base of sorts for the Magpie community that Aneira has always been different from her neurotypical older sister, Ffion: "Aneira seems to enjoy looking at paintings, she looks at trees, she opens and shuts doors constantly, she loves to touch and lick things such as any surface..."

3/16 :Beyond diagnosis

Different, as even small children are taught, does not mean "less than," and yet myths and stereotypes about people on the spectrum persist to this day. Gameson-Burrows, who has always loved to photograph his daughter, saw a chance to put a human face on a much-talked-about condition.

4/16 :Children without labels

And just like that, the Magpie photo series was born. By taking photographs of other children on the spectrum, Gameson-Burrows hopes that by seeing individuals with autism firsthand, people will begin to understand what they couldn't otherwise about the individuals themselves.

5 /16: The judgment of a stranger

5/16 :The judgment of a stranger

On the Facebook page, he recalls a moment when people's preconceived notions were particularly hurtful. His daughter, like many individuals on the spectrum, was having trouble with processing a sensation — in this case, the grass under her feet — and people stopped to stare and give the family pointed looks.

6/16 :Compassion is key

"The amount of people who looked at us as if she was being naughty was incredible," Gameson-Burrows said. He went on to add that people ought to "think twice when your out doing your weekly shop or eating a meal at a restaurant or even in a hospital waiting room."

7/16 :Think twice

The reason? You just can't know what an individual's or an entire family's experience might truly be, Gameson-Burrows points out. "The child/adult who is apparently misbehaving may have autism or learning difficulties and you can guarantee he/she is having a tougher time than you are."

8/16 :More than meets the eye

It's an excellent reminder that a single encounter does not tell an entire story, but that there's more that we need to keep in mind. Autism does not define a person. Gameson-Burrows marvels at the children and individuals he's met while photographing.

9/16 :A special kind of kid

"I talked to an autistic girl named Emily, who hates Frozen (high five!) and loves classical music. She could name every single piece of music Beethoven composed," he shared.

10/16 :A new perspective

Another boy with Asperger's taught Gameson-Burrows a lesson of his own, the dad recounted. "We talked about taking photographs for a while, and I told him about the amazing sunsets I have seen."

11/16 :Their own drummers

"He said, 'Why don't you ever look down? Everyone’s looking at the sunset. Try and look down,'" Gameson-Burrows recalls. "The next day I went out and took the best macro shots I have taken during sunset."

12/16 :A lack of support

But there's another very important reason the dad has for wanting to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder: He believes there is still a long way to go when it comes to providing support and social services to families with children on the spectrum.

13/16 :The end of ignorance

He talks about how where ignorance is, tragedy can sometimes follow, recalling stories not just of judgmental people, but cases where others perpetuate violence against autistic children and adults.

14/16 :Making progress

Gameson-Burrows hopes his photography will be one step in a much-needed progressive direction for families who need support, saying of his ongoing photography project: "It’s going to be different, and it’s hopefully going to open your eyes a little."

15 /16: Inspiration is catching

15/16 :Inspiration is catching

Gameson-Burrows is well on his way to achieving his goal, as the pictures have gone viral. Something about them clearly resonates with people, especially those whose lives have been touched by ASD.

16 /16: Spreading understanding

16/16 :Spreading understanding

"By the end of it," Gameson-Burrows wrote, "I’m hoping to raise awareness, build friendships and show people that people with autism spectrum disorders can make a difference in society."

He's certainly well on his way.