Autism Ontario Helps Autistics Share Their Stories with Photovoice

Autism Ontario

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. A recent exhibition, co-sponsored by Autism Ontario and Photovoice, a non-profit organization that helps people tell their stories through photography, introduced a library of lived experiences.  

Diana Nazareth, project facilitator for Autism Ontario, explains that the photovoice technique has been used successfully to build communities. Although circumstances forced this to be a remote project of 10 autistic participants using cellphone cameras, the results were impressive. "It was wonderful," she says. By the end of the project, everyone was bonding, and the artists produced some spectacular work."   

One young autistic photographer, Phoenix Sage Kennedy, age 10, explains how he took the photo he calls Dark Dance. "It was a happy accident," he says. "I just moved the camera for a long time." When he saw the flying colours in the picture, it reminded him of dancing. "I decided to call it Dark Dance because there's strokes of colour and it feels like the strokes are dancing."


Another young autistic photographer, Xavier Aziavor, age 11, stands proudly beside a self-portrait of him wearing a Superman costume. "Superman is my favourite hero," he says — and for good reason, as he tells it. At age 5, Xavier became seriously ill, going into a coma for several days. When he woke up, he said, the nurses were calling him Superman. "When I put on my cape, I feel I can do anything. I'm strong," he says. "My superpower is to love my family and others and make everyone feel safe and special."


Kim Tran, Outreach and Events Specialist with Autism Ontario, says she had been interested in the photovoice concept and went ahead with it as a small pilot project. "We had people passing by on the street dropping in. What was supposed to be a pilot project became a huge success."

Kim Tran 1

The photovoice project has had a lasting impact beyond the immediate event. At a recent charity golf tournament in Toronto benefiting Autism Ontario, a selection of the photos was anonymously displayed. The audience was impressed by what they saw.

"Events like this are the essence of Autism Ontario," says Kim. "It's because of the donations we receive that we can share this work with the wider community."