Life Perspective: When a Picture is Not Worth A Thousand Words

Like most grandparents, my home is full of photos of my grandchildren. In almost each and every photo they are smiling and happy. Each photo records a moment in time that is also etched into my memory.

Life Perspective: When a Picture is Not Worth A Thousand Words

These photos record small events that are collectively the sum of each child’s life to date. As I look from one to the next, I see change and growth.

In each picture my grandchildren are a little older, their hair and eyes a little different. In each photo you see a different time of year, a different place.

While the actual features are different from one photo to the next, the subject matter is always similar. It is this way in the home of every grandparent I know.

Many of these photos are seemingly interchangeable. We save these photos and display them for the simple joy they bring to us. We are proud of our grandchildren.

We want to be reminded of them. We want to share the joy they give to us. We even want to show them off a bit.

We have been taught to feel that a picture can tell a larger story. A picture can help us better understand something that is complex.

A picture can be worth, “a thousand words.” It’s true, sometimes when we can’t understand the meaning of the written word, we can look at a picture and the message really comes through.

I wonder though, if sometimes that is not the case at all. Can a picture not tell the whole story? Can it mask the complexity of its subject? In my case I am sure this is true.

One of my grandsons has autism. However, if you look at his pictures, you would never know. He is smiling, he is playing, and he is posing. He looks just the same as any beautiful joyous child. What is different is how his mind is capturing all that is around him.

Sometimes what he is seeing, I am missing. He sees some things differently than I do. In fact he may be seeing things more clearly than I can. The message he receives may be very different from the one I might get. In many instances he sees more detail, more nuance.

Sometimes his reactions are different than I might expect. Some things he sees may be a little scary or troubling. Who is to say that what he is seeing is not the clearer picture.

It turns out that each of these photos is much more than a record of a moment in time. Each photo is a window. These photos are a window into a greater complexity. Rather than making something easy to understand, they energize a need for a much deeper understanding. When I look at a photo now of my grandson, I see so much more. I see a mind at work.

I see his special effort to see me back. I see him searching for insight, comfort and understanding. I realize that in each photo I am not so much looking at him as I am looking “into” him. I am excited to see the searching that is occurring. I am thrilled to know that this little photo record of his life may someday have a greater meaning to him.

To someone else, these photos may not appear to be so much more than just a split second record of an instant in a child’s life. To just the casual observer there is no understanding of my grandson’s unique perspective. Someone without a child on the spectrum or uninformed about autism will not see this complexity.

I understand how one second in his day may have been part of a greater experience. I understand how hard he is trying to be still and well behaved. I can see behind the photo, the parents, the teachers, the therapists, the doctors who have so greatly contributed to getting us this one single photo.

I have seen the determination, and the effort my grandson has made to make this brief moment possible. I have recorded in my memory all that has preceded this split second and all that has followed. It really has not been that simple. The picture has only told a small part of a much more complex story.

Autism defies simplicity. Autism makes every photo just one frame of a full length movie. Autism may make things appear a bit different to my grandson. Autism has made each of these photos worth ten million words. When we as family get to look at photos like these we may be starting to see that much more special picture our children are seeing.

We must apply more than just our visual skills to really see the meaning of these moments recorded in photographic time. We must look deeper to see the totality of the circumstances our children are seeing. We must try to understand the picture is looking back at us. We must realize that something deeper and different is being played back to our photo’s subject.

There is so much for a child with autism to learn. There is so much for us to learn back from that child. A child with autism has to try hard to learn sometimes. We need to try equally as hard to learn from and about them. It’s only fair that we reciprocate their effort with our own. It is only fair that we try to understand them as hard as they are trying to understand us.

Children with autism give us a chance to be different too. Children with autism give us a chance to do more than just “take a picture.” Children with autism give us a chance to tell a story that lasts a lifetime. Each photo is really a full length movie, an epic, a saga, just like the life of each person that by being special, makes our lives special.

This article was featured in Issue 38 – Keeping ASD Kids Healthy


    Steven Josias

    Steven Josias has been a practicing Attorney in Florida for over forty years. Originally from Massapequa, New York, he earned his B.A. in History at The Citadel and his J.D. from The University of Notre Dame. He served in The U.S. Army and was a Company Commander and Battalion Operations Officer before ending his service in The National Guard and Reserves. In 1974 he founded his Law Firm in Ft. Lauderdale with specialties in Tax, Real Property and Governmental Law. After retiring from active practice he continues to serve as Of Counsel to the firm. He has represented over fifty governmental agencies at the Local, State and Federal level.  He has served as Special Counsel to U.S. Senator Bob Graham, President of the Museum of Discovery and Science, and as a member of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida.   Josias is also a Certified Mediator and Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem for children in State supervised foster care. His other civic activities include service on numerous National and State Bar Committees. He was Chairman of The Board of a four Hospital Health Care System and served on that Board for eight years. Josias is also a licensed pilot.  He and his wife of forty three years, Marlene, have two children and three grand-children. His oldest grandson was diagnosed with autism at age two.