Olive comes from a family of makers and artists and thinkers. Her mother Flannery O’Kafka is herself in her final year of studying Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School of Art, her older sister graduated painting and printmaking last year, and her other older brother just began in the same department (fine art photography). Her father is finishing a PhD in English Literature with a focus on Ecology and Monsters. Olive is no exception to this creative streak – she has a very strong imagination, perfect pitch, and a strong love of animals. The family love her to bits. But life is not always easy, Olive has complex needs that are reflective of her Autism, this can range from crippling anxiety and sometimes not being able to perform daily tasks due to sensory issues, confusion, or distress. Autism is a lifelong, developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates, interacts and processes information.
After years of trying to sort out how to support Olive, she was sent for an Autism assessment in 2016 and received her diagnosis in October of 2017. We’re still coming to terms with it all. It’s so good to have a name to put to what makes things difficult for her, but it’s sad to know that this is not some- thing she will ‘grow out of.’ It’s always been there and in certain ways many things have become more difficult the older she grows. We mourn the days when we weren’t sure if it was Autism….when we thought maybe we were overreacting. On balance though, we’re glad we know. She’s glad we know. Everything makes sense now in the context of Autism. It doesn’t make things easier, but it makes it a bit easier to know why things are so difficult and the best way to support Olive to live a wonderful, creative, interesting life that celebrates her strengths instead of highlighting her weaknesses. Her school is VERY supportive and they even have a tent in the classroom that she can go into when she’s stressed or overwhelmed during the school day.
No one can say what is ‘normal’. Although each society may have unspoken rules of what behavior is deemed ‘acceptable’ or ‘other’. As autism affects the way in which a person interacts and processes information the same event which would be of little or no concern for a non-autistic person, may result in a unexpected response by someone who is autistic. There is not a set pattern, no set symptoms and the range of responses to stimuli can also be hugely different, which is it why is called ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder’. Autism Spectrum Disorder affects individuals in many different ways. This short video does a great job of trying to explain what Autism can be like.
Below is an expert from an article that Olive’s mother wrote for Papier Mache magazine last year, describing her daughter Olive. What is insightful about this is how there are unique traits to Olives character that her mother could see and recognize – but as yet did not perhaps fully understand, prior to Olive’s Aspergers diagnosis.
> Olive < “…..has a strange and beautiful way about her. We often say that we still don’t know what her ‘deal’ is. She has a very fluid grasp on reality and seems to live inside her own thoughts—getting ‘nervous’ easily and overwhelmed when things are out of the ordinary. Lately, though, she has been giving herself what she calls ‘second chances’ and recently overcame a fear of bowling and school discos. Though she hates getting clothes on, she wears a fur coat nearly every day. She also sings beautifully and cares deeply for anyone in pain….
It was through Olive’s mother – the artists Flannery O’Kafka that I came across Olive and her family. I have been following her work and photography online and via Instagram for a couple of years. The images below are taken from her ongoing series “Moderate or Good Occasionally Poor”. I wanted to share them here too, not only because I am a fan of her work – but also because a diagnosis of Autism can effect a entire family. Autism has a ripple effect from the person diagnosed to their wider circle, families, friends, teachers and carers’. As none of us live in isolation from each other – we’re all human, and we occupy one world together. Education and raising awareness about Autism can help people to understand the condition. It can show us how to support, or simply co-exist with a better understanding and less stigma of Autistic people and the challenges that they or their families and friends may face.
‘Moderate or Good, Occasionally Poor’ is an ongoing photographic project about our family, with a focus on our two youngest children. After I develop the 35mm snapshots from our everyday life, I separate out the family photos from the photos I consider part of my work (though there is often an overlap between the two). The photos I select are a combination of portraits and landscape, of people and place. Being adopted, I constantly scanned our family albums growing up looking for photographs of people who I resembled. Though I am tied to my family though name, tradition, love, and shared experience, there was always a desire to see someone who looked like me. Photographing my own kids repeatedly in domestic or constructed situations is a way of finding and seeing and keeping that family resemblance I was always looking for. It’s fairly obvious to say it, but every photo of my children is in a way a clumsy stab at a self-portrait
World Autism Awareness Week was pioneered by the National Autistic Society (NAS), World Autism Awareness aims to draw attention to the millions of people living globally with Autism – both to educate those unaware of the condition, and to help make the world friendlier to those who are affected by it.
ASD is a complex creature; it often becomes apparent during early childhood and affects a person’s ability to communicate, interact with others, and navigate the world. But early diagnosis combined with access to advice and support can really make a difference, not only to the child, but to entire families.
Here are some links to a few UK based websites for further reading:
A huge thank you to Andrea and Olive for all the info that they have given to me and in turn allowed me to share. Olive wears our casual tigers tee and sweatshirt which we made in collaboration with Lucy Kirk. (Olive LOVES the tigers.) Along with her fave wellies.
@ flanneryokafka // www.facebook.com/flannery.okafka
All images in this piece are by Flannery O’Kafka