When I first reached out to the Shenouda Family for their Slice of Life Session, I had not intended it to be a blog post for Autism Awareness Month. We were originally scheduled to do the shoot in February, but due to sick kiddos, we postponed it till the end of March. I hadn’t even realized that April was Autism Awareness Month. Once I came to that realization, I asked Kelly, the mother, if she would be inclined to tell her personal story about how autism has touched their lives. She was more than willing to do so, I was happy to be able to pair that with the images from our time together. Here is what Kelly shared with me:
There are pivotal moments in your life, and the day that Alex (just shy of 3 years old) was diagnosed with autism, was one of them for me. I could let the fear that my son would be stuck in this world, where I could not reach him, consume me, or I could take the even scarier road of putting my emotions aside, and learn everything I could to be the very best advocate for him. I chose the latter. I must admit, the diagnosis gave me a sense of relief. We now knew what we were dealing with and it would open many doors for help and support. Raising a child with autism is like you’re flying blind. There are no guides to follow, no outline. A lot of it is trial and error. The spectrum is large and no two children are the same.
Four and a half years ago we picked up and moved because Alex NEEDED to be in a good school district, I needed to be in a good district. I can tell you now that this was the absolute best decision we ever made. We have been surrounded by wonderful teachers, fantastic therapists, great friends, and a great support system. Milestones with autism are much slower then the typical child. Alex has come a long way since that October day. He is now 7 and has gone from not being able to walk up a curb by himself, to happily playing on the slides at the playground. From not being able to go out to eat, to sitting and eating a whole meal in a noisy restaurant. We can thank the trusty iPad for this! Alex went from eating only 3-4 foods, to consuming an array of foods, which now include fruits and veggies. This is HUGE! Alex is non-verbal so we rely on his iPad to help him communicate, but even when it isn’t available, he definitely gets his point across as to what he wants, and what he doesn’t. Emotionally, I think this is one of the hardest things for me to deal with. Imagine your child is up at night, crying, and is obviously uncomfortable, but he cannot communicate to you what hurts. We have had many nights like this and they do not get any easier. As a mother my job is to figure out what is wrong, and fix it. Often times I cannot, so I just sit and hold him. It hurts my heart. This is just a small glimpse at how autism is part of our lives. I cannot be more proud of my son and his accomplishments. I will be with him every step of the way so that I can celebrate him as he soars through life.
A warm thank you to Kelly + Nader + Nicholas and of course, Alex for allowing me to join them in their home. Slice of Life Sessions are a very intimate way to photograph your family life. I embrace any opportunity I have to be a part of this type of documentation. It can be difficult letting down your guard, and allowing someone to photograph you and your family in such a candid and honest way. I don’t take this kind of trust in me for granted. The Shenouda family was so kind, and so open with me. It made my “job” easy. I did my very best to depict their life just as I saw it. It was not hard to show their love and happiness in the images, because it was shinning through in their personalities. I just hope you can also see the strength, patience, positive energy, and unwavering support that was so very present in my time spent with them. That is what I really wanted to capture.
Thank you for joining me on the blog this morning. I am so happy to share their story, and I hope you enjoy it. I welcome you to share it so we can shed a light on autism.
Please visit autismspeaks.org to learn more about autism, donate to the cause, or see how you can get involved.