I received the following note:

I think it’s essential to talk about this amongst all the illustrious “35 year old male, net $500k/year”.

I am both autistic and very talented, and the former has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to keep my head above water. I am currently scraping by at the poverty line and am on Medicaid. I am so poor that I get free internet and subsidized electricity bills. I am incredibly good at what I do, and when I have a client, they are always thrilled with my work. But my brain just doesn’t grasp professional-speak, networking, corporate patterns of communication, or entrepreneurship. I feel as if I am working as hard as I can while watching people less skilled than I am make a killing.

I should clarify that I am not inappropriate with my clients, nor do I make anyone uncomfortable – if you met me, you’d have no idea I’m on the spectrum at first. But my brain is markedly different and provides very unique impediments, and the industry is simply not set up to accommodate people like me.

The industry as a whole is incredibly confusing, complex, and cutthroat, and highly ableist.

I have reached a tipping point in my career of realizing I cannot go another day accepting things the way they are, but I also recognize that, if people can’t identify with what I would reveal, it probably doesn’t make sense to torch the last gasping remnants of my fucked career and publicize this struggle for a bunch of people who would be like “…um, what?”. So, I’m going the anonymous route for now. I’m curious what people might say.

I also want to clarify that I think my situation in particular goes beyond a ‘dislike’ of the business part (although that’s a component as well). It’s more just that there are very specific unwritten rules of pitching and interaction that are prohibitively incomprehensible to someone on the spectrum. And it’s awful, because, as I mentioned, I have *never* had a dissatisfied client. People love my work. But presenting as an autistic person who doesn’t “look autistic” is incredibly off-putting for most people. They think they know what they’re working with, and then they get to know me a little more. I never intend to fuck anything up, but this is inevitably what happens, simply because I’m neurologically unable to follow certain (nonsensical???) structures of interaction and interlocution. It’s frustrating as hell.

I should also mention that this is also what caused me to lose a major camera sponsorship. I say the wrong thing, have no idea, and six months of complete radio silence later, I find out I’ve been blacklisted. I learned this from a friendly acquaintance on their PR team who had just gotten laid off, so he had no more secrets to keep. I mean, the industry is wild. Like, I have no idea what I did, I didn’t mean to offend, can we just talk about it first? Lol. People only like the flavors of disabled that make you meek and small and pitiable, not the ones that make you alienating (read: a confident autistic woman who occasionally makes gaffes and misreads social cues). So – I would very much love to talk more about the intersection of photography and disability. There’s a lot that needs to be said here, especially because many of the voices that should be amplified are instead squelched under the weight of industrywide ableism.

Recommended Posts


  1. Growing up with my younger brother on the spectrum, and now with my (psychotherapist)
    partner of 14 years whose work deals directly with all types of similar issues, I do truly understand where you are. And though I’ve shot in for the advertising industry for 40+ years, ‘networking’ has always seemed the antithesis of my ‘loner’ mentality, on the business-side of running my successful studio these many years. So maybe this could help. Let your most beautiful work, speak for you. Always. Get it seen through every portal you can find, whether a paid model, or free. Your ‘people’ will then find you. And they will, if you continue to persevere. Those artists we have most revered throughout history, have for the most part been ‘a little off’ (or a LOT), and have shown us through their very personal art, so many different worlds interpreted through their own realities, that awaken us to new ways of seeing. So shoot from your heart, always. Let no one stop or slow you down in your journey. Know that there are many different paths to that same destination, the unrivaled joy of the creative spirit in action. Best wishes on your journey!!

  2. Oh wow. This is a particularly challenging topic. As the parent of two neurodivergent children, who have both pointed out my own (non-diagnosted) symptoms and challenges in this space, I really don’t know how to respond to this.

    On the one hand, having the ability to express a different point of view in a photograph is a huge strength. The fact that I “think different” allows me to create and satisfy my clients’ image needs in unique ways. And, I am always surprised when they ask “How did you come up with that?” My response is usually, “How could you not? What do you mean you don’t see in pictures?”

    On the other hand, this is a business and my clients’ needs go far beyond the final image. They need to have confidence that I am going meet other professional needs such as setting my subjects at ease during sessions, deliver on time and on budget, that I can respond to changes on the fly and can handle and respond to critical comments during the shoot.

    They need to know that they can have confidence in me that I will make them look good to their bosses. Perhaps more than making great images, that confidence is what gets me repeat clients.

    I don’t know that I have a solution to your frustration, other than knowing that almost everyone, neurodivergent or not, has had to create and learn systems beyond their primary task to have any kind of success in any business.

    Perhaps finding a mentor, not for photography, but for the “sales” side of the business could help you to navigate those situations?

  3. Wow! This is something I’ve honestly never thought about! I’m so glad you bared your soul about this. Not much to say, other than I’m so sorry you feel alienated in this industry. It can be tough for anyone, but I imagine having this hanging over you must be extra hard.

    All the best!

Comments are closed for this article!