Meet Helen P.
Helen P., 26
Because of my autism, my life has been very meaningful. It’s helped me be more creative as a writer, pet photographer and artist.
Growing up in Colorado, Helen had a hard time fitting in and making friends. Diagnosed with autism at age five, her struggles with picking up on social cues and understanding facial expressions often left her feeling like an outsider. But when her family moved to North Haven, Connecticut, she met a group of friends who encouraged her to embrace the unique traits that make her who she is. It was at that point when everything seemed to change for Helen.
Today, you can often find this 26-year-old behind the lens of her Nikon D3300 camera, capturing the world in all of its natural beauty. Helen dreams of one day working for National Geographic as a wildlife and portrait landscape photographer and hopes to inspire the world to see the natural innocence in all living things. She graduated from Hamden Transition Academy in 2015, a specialized school that provides educational opportunities and workforce skills and experiences for transition-age students, and continues to hone her skills in preparation for the day she gets the opportunity to share her photography with the world.
Just recently, one of her photos a black and white portrait of her friend’s dog - won an honorable mention at the 2019 New England Camera Club Council. Helen says it was one of her instructors who noticed her talent as a photographer and encouraged her take her hobby even further.
Get to know Helen below in this Q&A:
At what age were you diagnosed with autism?
I was first diagnosed with autism at the age of five.
When did you realize what it meant to be on the spectrum? How did the news impact your life?
My life changed after moving to North Haven, Connecticut. I have made several friends, one with whom I’m very close. She has taught me there is more to life than what other people think there are. A lot of people tend to look past the obstacles they see in everyday life. They never once stop to listen what life has to offer. It’s because of this meaning that has changed my perspective on how I view myself.
How does your autism affect your life?
I had a difficult time making friends through part of my life. I see things from a different perspective, I try every day to engage in social activities and find new opportunities to help those who have autism.
What struggles have you faced as a result of your autism?
It would be difficult to understand and take in the directions given to me at home, school and work. It always helped me to write down the tasks and research how I can break them down into an understandable form.
In what areas has your autism helped you excel?
I’ve learned to stand up for myself and my friends. I’m always willing to try new ideas and gain new opportunities. Because of my autism, my life has been very meaningful. It’s helped me be more creative as a writer, pet photographer and artist.
How did you get into photography?
I always knew I loved art. Drawing always helped me to express myself. While touring the art museums, I would always gaze upon the historic paintings such as those of George Washington, and the Navajo and Cherokee Tribes. The scenery in the backgrounds made me feel like I was a part of those paintings. It wasn’t until I was at Hamden that I got serious about photography.
One of the art instructors saw I had more talent than I was giving myself credit for. I still remember when she said to me, ‘you truly have an eye for photography.’ I guess she was right! I hope one day my work can inspire others to chase their dreams too.
How important has it been to have a strong support system of family and friends in your life?
My family is very supportive of my dreams of becoming a wildlife photographer for National Geographic and whatever else I want to pursue. They’ve always told me I see things that others don’t.
Please explain what you do as an autism self-advocate. Why is being an advocate important to you?
As an autism self-advocate, I try to teach people about the struggles that many individuals with autism face, but also how those struggles can be overcome. I’m currently working on a children's book about a red wolf with autism. In the book, I try to show what autism is through emotions and facial expressions such as anxiety. I also support autism by participating in both the Autism Speaks and Best Buddies Walks.
Being an advocate is important to me because there are many people who just need the support of family and friends in their life. I hope to make a difference by sharing my book and teaching families about the importance of inclusion and what it feels like to have autism.
What would you tell someone who is on the spectrum and interested in learning how to better advocate for themselves as well as others with autism?
I would like to tell the person that they have many talents to share with the world. Find your voice - you have the courage and passion to make a difference. Look back upon your strengths and tell them it’s their character and talents that make them who they are inside.
What advice would you give to someone who was recently diagnosed with autism and may be looking for advice?
If you have an idea, go for it! Don’t let anyone tell you your dream is out of reach. Always remember, your light will prevail! You have the power to make a difference!
What are five words that best describe you?
Creative. Loyal. Courageous. Spirited. Determined.