Autism: an alternative reality?

Autism: an alternative reality?

A photo exhibit at the Rachmaninov Garden gallery aims to raise awareness about autism in Russia.

Published: November 21, 2012 (Issue # 1736)


‘Vanya, 2 1/2 years old’ is one of the photos on show at the exhibition.

A photo exhibit portraying the inscrutable and troubling world of autistic children opened last week in the city, under the title “Another Facet of Reality (Children’s Album).”

Held at the Rachmaninov Garden photo gallery, a venue better known for shows focusing on high culture and photography than socially relevant themes, the exhibit transports visitors emotively into an alternative reality through 25 black and white photographs of autistic children from around Russia, raising awareness about an issue that is largely marginalized and ignored by Russian authorities and society.

The photographs offer a touching and humanistic view of the children affected by the disorder, showing them in various settings expressing joy, fear and excitement, while reminding viewers that they are children just like any others, who play, act silly and try to overcome adversity, such as in the inspiring shot of one child in the act of studying.

Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs the sufferer’s ability to form social relationships and communicate with others. If treated, the child can overcome barriers and easily integrate into society.

In Russia, however, where the disorder is chronically ignored, children and their parents are left to fend for themselves, and often suffer from a lack of information and access to quality specialists and treatment that would alleviate the most difficult symptoms of the disorder, as well as institutes of education that are willing to accommodate the children, a key step in determining their future social standing.

According to project co-founder and Moscow psychologist Yulia Presnyakova, who treats autism at a clinic in the capital and whose son is affected by the disorder, therapy can enable affected children to go on to lead productive and normal lives. They are able to find work, get an education and even become specialists in their chosen fields.

The contrast between the situation in Russia and countries such as the United States is stark. While 85 percent of American autistic children are able to integrate into society, the same number is “cast overboard” in Russia, says Presnyakova.

While no official statistics exist about the exact numbers of autistic children in Russia, Presnyakova believes the number is growing.

“We want to tell people that this problem exists, and that we can’t close our eyes to it, because more and more children are autistic. You can no longer hide this problem, or keep your mouth shut, because if we don’t do something about it now, we will have to face an enormous problem in the future.”

According to the organizers, change needs to come from the governmental level, with new laws that would help integrate autistic children into schools, as well as increased funding for programs that would educate teachers about welcoming children with special needs into the classroom.

“Right now, governmental structures pretend that this problem doesn’t exist,” said Presnyakova.

A secondary goal of the exhibition is to help initiate a different social attitude to those that don’t fit into the norm.

“This exhibition is for you and me, it’s not for the autistic children,” said Alexei Sivkov, the St. Petersburg-based photographer who took the photographs for the exhibition.

“They’re comfortable with themselves; it’s us who don’t let them into our world. This exhibition is about love, in the general sense. It is about tolerance,” he added.

“Another Facet of Reality (Children’s Album)” runs through Dec. 22 at the Rachmaninov Garden gallery,

5 Kazanskaya Ulitsa.

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