Reed Magazine August
2004

What Rachel Sees Autism, Art, and Meaning-Making
   

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Autism is not particularly well understood or defined; it consists of a spectrum of disorders that have varying effects. Though no characteristics definitely indicate or exclude autism; a few chief commonalities are found among people affected by it. Such people are usually (from Terhune’s thesis introduction) “intensely visual thinkers, often of normal or near-normal intelligence, who are exceptionally sensitive to sensory stimuli.” People with autism often tend to pay precise attention to details, rather than using incoming data to make generalizations. Thus, photographs may not focus traditionally on the subject, but may catch whatever the photographer sees in front of her at the moment she directs the camera toward her subject.

Rachel’s photographs, for instance, Terhune says, “are important to her because of what they represent. She takes these pictures in a documentary sort of way. She doesn’t think much about the picture itself.” When the two of them visited the zoo, Rachel took a photo of each cage, regardless of the location of the animal, so that she could essentially look back later and re-see every cage. Terhune recalls Rachel’s interest in taking pictures of people: “She said she wanted to have a picture of all six billion people in the world, as though if she had a picture of every person in the world, she’d understand what it was to be a person.”

This intense focus on details and organized systems, and an inability to generalize, can make people with autism seem unusual in their approach to the world. Terhune says that also makes them human. “Everyone has certain private reasons for desiring to make visible particular aspects of reality. I think children and adults, autistic or otherwise,use these perceptions in order to express desires and questions that we all have: What matters? Why, how will my life unfold?”

In the end, this is the commonality Terhune hopes to emphasize. “At the most basic level,” says Terhune, “I want people to walk away from my art understanding that there are other valid perspectives that should be accepted for what they are: diverse and unique views of our world.”
David Clark ’01 is a freelance writer, living in Portland. This is his first article for Reed.

 
Emily and Rachel

Emily Terhune ’04

Oswego Historical Meeting Place by Emily Terhune ’04
Oswego Historical Meeting Place
Emily Terhune ’04
     
Rachel and Emily
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Top LLLEmily Terhune ’04
 
Top LLLEmily Terhune ’04
Top LLL
Emily Terhune ’04
     

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Reed Magazine August

2004