A Snapshot and a Statistic is an Unrevealing Picture

The latest buzz in the Autism circles goes something like this: parent posts a picture on FACEBOOK of their adorable, handsome child with a caption that reads,”this is my 1 in 94″ or ” this is what 1 in 88 looks like!”  What can one who reads this post gather from it other than to gaze at a good-looking child and wonder what is Autistic about this image, and for that matter what does that number mean?  Obviously, the parent loves their child, and the parent is proud of their child (or why would they post his photo in the first place?) but what does that photo tell us about Autism and further, what does the statistic tell us about Autism?  In my mind very little.

The photographs in these POSTS reveal nothing about the caption. There are very good looking people who live with Autism and many not so distinguished people who live with Autism, just like in the population at large.  I wonder if the parent is trying to illustrate a point about Autism by posting the picture because as far as I know, Autistic people look no different than any other people.  Members of the Autism community know this but there are many people who do not know that Autism is not reflected in how one looks, so it may be confusing to try to figure out what is Autistic about the person by looking at the photo.  Clearly, the parent is not posting the photo to confuse the FACEBOOK audience into thinking that Autism has such physical markers that can be discerned in a photo, but I think it is confusing when coupled with the caption.

Which leads me to the caption, “this is my 1 in 94” or “this is what 1 in 88 looks like.”   I ask myself, “1 in 94 or 88 or any number what?” when I read such a statement. The number tells the average FACEBOOK viewer nothing about the person in the picture.  Even if one assumes (and presumably the parent means this) that this is what the statistic looks like, I find it insulting to the person in the photo, though I may have no right to be insulted for them.  First, all people are unique individuals not a number.  Second, people living with Autism are individuals like everyone else, not numbers. Third, the number is not the sum of the person as some may read into this POST.

I truly believe that the parents who POST such a photo and caption do so proudly with good intentions but I wish they would have stopped to think a bit more before pushing the POST button.  It does no one living with Autism any good to be cornered into a statistical box.  People living with Autism are as diverse as the general population.  It does not enhance the life of a person living with Autism to have people stare at them to try to find a physical difference or to have others focus on their “differences.”

In my view, although numbers can be useful in helping the scientists or the politicians focus on an issue, when it comes to real, live, breathing individuals, we need to get away from numbers and look at the person.  We need to focus on the strengths, talents and uniqueness of each individual because it is all of these together that make the person.  That proud parent on FACEBOOK could have written a different caption to make the point they were trying to make: ” this is my son who lives with Autism and I love him.”  Everyone who read that POST would have understood its meaning immediately and its positive caption would have achieved the empathy and support they were aiming for.