By Ron Sandison
On March 9, 2018, I met Malcolm Wang and his mom Karen at the Autism Alliance of Michigan’s 4th annual Navigating Autism conference. Malcolm is a sixteen year old junior at Northville High School who has autism and epilepsy. He is a photographer and self-advocate.
In sixth grade, Malcolm became interested in photographer, “I liked to press buttons on cameras. I like to look at pictures. As a child, I loved to press elevator buttons and when I did chores I enjoyed pressing the dishwasher and washing machine buttons. I also liked to flip light switches on and off.”
Malcom uses a Canon power shot camera and also an Olympus Digital SLR. Some of Malcom’s favorite artists are Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. For fun he enjoys trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts and University of Michigan Museum of Art.
The main theme of his photography is nature. Malcom goes on hiking adventure to find the perfect pictures. “My favorite places to go hiking is State Parks and botanical gardens. Last summer, I went to Michigan State University to participate in a research study and I took photos of the flowers at the botanical garden there.”
While on vacation Malcom’s parents noticed his incredible memory ability. When he was two years old, the family went to visit his grandpa in Wisconsin and stayed in hotel room 413. A year and a half later his family stayed in the same hotel. While his parents were checking in at the front desk, Malcom went to room 413. Malcom’s parent in amazement said to him, “No, we are staying in 409 this time. We stayed in 413 last time.”
Malcom still enjoys memorizing parking spots and hotel room numbers. In Detroit with his Uncle Mike, they parked in spot 4101. Three times Malcom questioned his Uncle, “What spot are we in?”
Uncle Mike started asking Malcom, “Where are we parked?”
This become an inside joke between them—now Uncle Mike and Malcom text each other back and forth about spot 4101.
Malcom shares, “I enjoy dancing, singing, hanging out with friends. I like to go to Cedar Point with Dad and ride all the roller coasters. I love skyscrapers, museums, art fairs, farmers markets, libraries. I just love field trips to new places. Last summer, I went to Mackinac Island for the first time and I liked the ferry boat. I would like to travel to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France because I want to ride the elevator or St. Peter’s church in Rome, Italy to climb up to the top of the dome.”
Malcom was diagnosed with autism at age three. “I had a lot of sensory issues. I was sensitive to noise. Loud sounds hurt my ears. I was sensitive to food and texture. I am sensitive to feeling air on my skin. I always wear long sleeves even in summer. I am sensitive to bright sunlight. But, transitions lenses in my glasses help with that. It was hard for me to sleep. I also had trouble falling asleep. I woke up during the night and mom would have to stay with me.”
Malcom greatest challenge with autism was learning. “I had my first IEP when I was one year old. I started speech therapy and occupational therapy. But, I had so much anxiety and panic attacks that it was very hard for me to learn. For a long time, I had to practice being near noise and light, and people, and it took a long time for me to learn how to eat different types of food. The important thing is that I was able to learn. When I had the right kind of help, I could do things just like other kids.”
In elementary and middle school, Malcom attended a cross-categorical classrooms and general education classrooms. He had difficulty developing friendships and understanding the lessons. Malcom’s family moved to Northville after fourth grade for a better learning environment. It was a good choice. Northville teachers helped him with reading comprehension and math. He took social skills classes at school and at the Friendship Circle. On Sundays, Malcom attended Sunday school and was an altar boy.
Some advice Malcom shares with teenagers with autism, “Talk more with people. People are nice once you start talking to them.”
Malcom received the Award of Excellence from the National PTA in the Reflections Art Competition in the Special Artist Category in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, he won the Michigan PTA’s Award of Excellence.
“My life today is very different from when I was a little boy. I still love books and I still feel anxious sometimes. But, I understand more. I can tell people what I’m thinking and feeling. I can share my interests with other people. My specialty is nature photography. I do close ups of trees, flowers, birds, and water. I consider myself a working artist. I sell prints and cards at local art fairs. I submit my photos to professional exhibits.
“One of my photos was displayed at the Matthaei Botanical Garden at the University of Michigan. It’s a photo of flowers that I shot through a kaleidoscope. In 2017, I had my first solo exhibit at the Novi Civic Center’s public gallery. I showed 31 photos in honor of autism awareness month. The exhibit was so successful that they invited me back to exhibit in 2018. I share the story of my photography because it shows how a special interest can develop and connect people together.”
On Friday, April 13, 2018, from 6 pm to 7 pm at Novi Civic Center in Michigan, Malcolm Wang will host a solo exhibit featuring 30 original photographs in celebration of autism acceptance.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a Board Member with The Art of Autism and an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron on his website spectruminclusion.com or email Ron at Sandison456@hotmail.com.