ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND — Rafael Angevine can spend hours taking pictures.
“I just do it for myself," he said. "I don’t try to set up a scene or anything. I just take pictures.”
Rafael was diagnosed with autism when he was 26. His mother, Noelie, says his father encouraged their son to pursue his passion for photography.
“His photographs, the way he sees the found objects, the ordinary objects and picks up what’s beautiful about manmade things as well as what’s in nature, to me this is almost mystical,” she said.
When Rafael’s therapist told Noelie about an art exhibit by autistic artists, she wanted her son to participate.
The exhibit - called "Through Our Eyes" - is sponsored by the Madison House Autism Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for autistic adults.
Co-founder JaLynn Prince named it after her 24-year-old autistic son, Madison. He is one of an estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often, social awkwardness. Many parents like Prince worry about the future of their adult child, who can face difficulties finding work and housing.
“The most daunting concern is when I’m not around him any longer, who is going to make certain that my son has a happy and productive life?” Prince said.
The foundation lobbies for legislation to enhance opportunities for adults with autism and reduce barriers to meeting their housing and employment needs.
“Employment is huge because it’s estimated that about 85 percent of those on the spectrum may never have a totally gainful employment,” Prince said.
Sponsoring the exhibit advances another goal of the foundation: promoting understanding and inclusion in the community.
“We don’t have enough physicians that know anything about adults on the spectrum to be able to treat these adults," she said. "We have safety issues in the community. Some of our population tend to wander and what happens if they encounter a police officer and a police officer asks somebody to stop? and they're not going to stop because they don't know the police officer. And it can escalate before someone even understands that someone may be on the spectrum. They may feel they’re on drugs or something else.”
The art exhibit showcases the work of more than 20 artists and is presented in collaboration with the Universities at Shady Grove in Maryland.
The school's executive director, Stewart Edelstein, says it is a great learning opportunity for his students.
“We are in the process of educating students who will become nurses, teachers, social workers and they are citizens in our community," Edelstein said. "For them to understand in a more deep way the needs of this segment of our community - people with autism - is really important for their professional development.”
Noelie Angevine, Rafael’s mother, agrees that events like this benefit people like her son, and society at large.
“The economy would profit by using the talents of people like Rafael instead of letting them end up on the street,” she said.
It gives her hope that her son will continue to have a good life when she’s no longer around.