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Mother Photographer Brings Awareness about Asperger Syndrome through her Art – Interview with April Milani

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Some time ago, or rather the very beginning of existence childphotocompetition.com we had a magnificent opportunity to get acquainted with the work of April Milani.

In addition to phenomenal photos on her Flickr account, we could not really find much more information about this phenomenal photographer.

Her work has consistently drawn attention to our team why April Milani has repeatedly been promoted on our blog within Inspiring Monday. In her work, we saw pure art, powerful portraits, lots of emotion and something mysterious, dark, yet so beautiful. There was so much more than the common children’s photography.

"The Magician and his rabbit" by April Milani

“The Magician and his rabbit” by April Milani

One day, after she was featured on our blog, April wrote to us: “Thank you! This photo means the world to me. My son has uncontrolled epilepsy and Asperger’s. So when he has fun with the camera it makes my heart sing. I’m glad you like it too”. And this is how our story about an amazing boy and astonishing, touching photography begins…

This is a story about usual-unusual childhood, strength, love, emotions and all the challenges in raising a child with Asperger’s syndrome and epilepsy. Certainly, this is a story about the power of photography.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s our honor and pleasure to introduce you to April Milani.

"I See" by April Milani

“I See” by April Milani

Q: Dear April, it seems that you are a mysterious lady. Can you tell us more about yourself and your family? Where do you live? How many kids do you have? How old are they? Are you a SAHM or full time photographer? Employed somewhere else? How your typical day looks like?

A: I’m a military wife and homeschooling mother of two boys. We are currently stationed in Washington State. My work as a photographer is integrated with everything else I do on a daily basis. There are no typical days in the Milani household.

Q: Can you tell us your story how and when did you start photography?

"He laughs in the face of fear" by April Milani

“He laughs in the face of fear” by April Milani

A: It all started in my grandmother’s kitchen with her Polaroid camera. She made me really think about the shot before I took it. She would always tell me “you only get one shot, so make it count”. Although I went to college for black and white film after high school, my journey wasn’t that straightforward, and as a young adult, photography and I went our separate ways. Being a mom caused our paths to cross again, and I began to fall back in love with taking pictures because it allowed me to see my kids through the lens which inspired me in a number of new and different ways. Like most everything else that touches my life, I am rarely satisfied just taking on hobbies and doing things ‘for fun’. I wanted to know the art-form inside and out. I can’t just learn the basics of something and move on – I believe in fully immersing myself. So after that spark was reignited, I studied and completed the photography course offered at New York Institute of Photography (NYIP).

Q: So many parents can relate to your story. How did you personally feel when you found out that your son has epilepsy and Asperger’s?

A: I found out Nathan had epilepsy when he was 4. Even though it was the worst day of my life, it was also the day that I knew I wasn’t going crazy. We had been to so many doctors and been given so many explanations for what was going on with him. They had said it was everything from food allergies to just a bad attitude. So even though answers helped me know I wasn’t just losing my mind or imagining things, it was still a lot to take in at once. The Asperger’s diagnosis came when he was 7, but we had spent several years self-diagnosing and determining what was going on with him, so it wasn’t as much of a blow. As with any serious diagnosis, I think that as a parent we see those answers as a sort of death of a dream – whatever future we had envisioned for our child, whatever we had hoped they would accomplish – it has to be reevaluated and reshaped. It was partly selfish, but also an important switch for how I looked at my hopes and dreams for my boys. It really changed my outlook on all of our futures, and how I would continue to shape those hopes and possibilities for their future. Much like with my photography, I had to adjust my focus and change my perspective. It took a few years, but I have learned, and continue to learn, how to embrace his walk and what has been handed to us. Parenting always comes with its own set of challenges, no matter the child. This just happens to be our particular set.

incubation

“Incubation” by April Milani

Q: You said: “As with any serious diagnosis, I think that as a parent we see those answers as a sort of death of a dream – whatever future we had envisioned for our child, whatever we had hoped they would accomplish – it has to be reevaluated and reshaped”.
Is it reasonable to state that this entire experience was a large learning curve for you as a person as well? 
From your story, we got the impression that this entire experience taught you to live in a present moment and fully embrace life?

"Wild Thing" by April Milani

“Wild Thing” by April Milani

A: I think it is reasonable to state that all of life’s challenges are a large learning curve for us. And I have been able to learn to live more in the moment as a result of his diagnosis, but I think that our choices as parents are always personal ones, and how we strive to give them the biggest life and the most opportunities is never clear cut. We have to figure out what works for each of us.

Q: Where do you find strength and that inner feeling “everything will be all right”?

A: God. My faith. I don’t think that I manage to find strength because I know everything will be all right. It isn’t always all right. In the Bible, Job has everything taken away from him, and even though his life is rebuilt after he experiences massive losses and tragedy, he still went through it to begin with, and experienced that loss and hurt. So I don’t think that the challenges we face are all okay because in the end things will be “better”. We have to learn to be happy with what we DO have, not hope for what we don’t. And my faith is my grounding force.

Q: What is Nathan naturally drawn to? Does he love music, art, mathematics? Does he tell you what he wants to do/work when he grows up?

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A: I don’t think that’s an easy question for me to answer. Part of what makes Nathan having both Asperger’s and epilepsy difficult is that the seizures affect the left temporal lobe, so memory and vocabulary and comprehension etc can be affected by the clusters of seizures. It impacts his daily learning as well as his long-term choices, because on any given day or week, there may be things that he retains that interest him, or there may be things that he has previously mastered that he no longer is able to draw from. This affects his learning, so it makes long-term goals slightly more challenging for us. But even with that being said, I think a lot of kids with Asperger’s are pigeon-holed by their ability to be exceedingly good in certain areas. Right now, my focus as his mom is just to give him opportunities to learn and grow as he shows interest in things.

Q: What about Jake?

A: Jake has a variety of interests as well. He is a talented musician, artist and creative genius for a lot of my photo shoots. And he is all those things while also being an amazing son and brother. Everything we have gone through as a family since Nathan’s diagnosis, he has experienced day in and day out. He’s my hero. I firmly believe that whatever he decides he wants to be when he grows up, he will be more than capable of achieving.
boys-april-milani

Q: In what way has photography helped to deal with any unusual, beautiful and definitely challenging moments in raising a boy with this condition?

A: Photography is a way for me to connect – with myself, with my kids, and with those around me. I have never really been one for words – pictures are my preferred form of communication – but it is really an all-encompassing benefit. I use my art as a personal therapy – a way to work through and process the stress and challenges that we face on a daily basis. It isn’t just for me, though. Chronicling this journey provides me with an opportunity to chart how far we have come as a family, and also allows me to really capture the vastly different moments as we experience them. When I said before that there are no typical days in our household, I was being sincere. Moods and challenges and breakthroughs happen to us as we hang on to a swinging pendulum. Sometimes it is through the combination of his unique challenges and my photographic vision that we are able to find the beauty in the midst of the challenges.

"Giving him wings so he can fly" by April Milani

“Giving him wings so he can fly” by April Milani

This image of Jake, I feel, really represents what I strive to maintain for him even with all of the day to day uncertainty and challenges that we face with Nathan’s epilepsy and Asperger’s. I want him to always know that he can spread his wings and fly. This shot shows both his freedom and his perseverance in the face of these challenges.

Q: Do you take photographs every day?
april-pl

A: Yes. I’ve been doing the 365project for 3 years now. It helps keep me current.

Q: Which medium you prefer? Film, Digital? Both? Which camera and lens do you use?

A: I do both digital and film. With digital, my first choice is my Canon Mark III. My 50mm and Lensbaby lenses are most reached for out of my camera bag. For film, I have almost 50 film cameras, so I wouldn’t pinpoint just one. I pick up whatever I’m in the mood for at that moment.

Q: Why don’t you have a super fancy website like many other photographers?

A: I think my website is able to showcase my photographs while still being very user friendly. Some photographers have very elaborate webpages that can sometimes deter people from just being able to browse images. I don’t give out digital images to my clients, so I specifically set up the website for my clients to be able to view and order their prints from me. I am working on putting together an online portfolio in order for people to see the progression of my journey as a photographer. I do feel, however, that I have an online presence that allows my work to be visible, through various competitions and web groups much like the 365project, flickr and facebook. Anyone who has questions or wants more information about or from me is always welcome to reach out, much like Child Photo Competition did for this interview.


Q: Do you do commission work?

A: Yes I do commission work. But I do a variety of types of photography: Birth, weddings, family portraits, horse shows, and portfolios. The type of photography I am really interested in, though, is being able to take a child’s dreams, passions and personality and translate that into an image that captures their spirit in a way that portraiture can’t. (Such as the picture of my friend’s daughter Rachel with a rabbit in the jar, and another image in my 365project of a friend’s daughter transforming into a mermaid).

Q: There are so many possible narratives for each of your photographs. Can you tell us more about your creative process? Do you give instructions to your children when you photograph or you spontaneously document their life, imagination and emotions?

A: My creative process. I think there is a lot of give and take with giving instructions to my kids and other children that I photograph. I like the collaboration and the unintended outcome of their thought-processes as well as my own. With Nathan specifically, he needs a lot of direction. He will barter with me for how many clicks of the camera I get with him. With Jake, he is a natural Director. We work through the creative process as a team from the idea to the shot itself. But that isn’t to say that every day I set out to shoot a particular shot. I love being able to get candid shots of them, too. I don’t like to feel limited, so if they come to me with an idea, or I ask them what they think of an idea of mine, we will often work through it. But not having a set idea for a photograph doesn’t ever stop me from capturing what is going on around us every day.

milani-april-rabbit-in-jar

This is a friend’s daughter, Rachel – she has dreams of becoming a vet. This image was my creative interpretation of how I see her attention and tenderness towards the animals she cares for. As with all of my photographs, this one image is a collection of various ideas, formats, lenses, and collaborations.

Q: What’s the story behind the photograph “Monster”?

A: I am a part of the Mad Hatters, a group that focuses on storytelling through photography. With weekly subjects or themes that vary widely in both their content and the amount of direction we are given, it was a fun and challenging group to be a part of. The idea for Monster came from a weekly challenge to create an image from a children’s book, but my son Jake, in the photograph, was part of creative process, too. I enjoyed the weekly challenges until I had to take a step back to focus on the gallery opening in October. So now I am participating once a month, instead. My image “Thing 1 and Thing 2” came about as a part of that same creative group.

"Monster 2" by April Milani

“Monster 2” by April Milani

Q: Can you tell us more about gallery opening in October?

A: I am opening a gallery on October 14 of this year in Scottsdale, AZ at Shop 88. The show will run for 3 months, and includes some of my older work, but will be showcasing my new series of fine art photography that is currently in process. There will be opportunities closer to the opening for online viewing and purchasing of pieces, so stay tuned and check back in on my website if you’re interested!

Q: Who do you miss?

"I Miss You" by April Milani

“I Miss You” by April Milani

A: This picture of Jake was taken only a few weeks after his father had deployed on a 9 month tour. It captures his missing his father.

Q: It seems you and your kids spend a lot of time outside? Is being outside a playground feel for all of you?

Untitled-3

A: I feel that as a culture, our children are spending far too much time indoors. One of the advantages to homeschooling my boys is that we have the amazing opportunity to complete our academics, and then get out of doors to explore the world around us.

Q: What about all those beautiful bunnies, dogs and horses we see in your work? Are they all your pets?

A: Some of my subjects are my pets, but not all of them. A lot of the animals that I have the opportunity to use in my photographs are part of our community, and have served various roles both in my art and Nathan’s therapy.

"Us time" by April Milani

“Us time” by April Milani

Q: Why freedom isn’t free?

"Freedom isn't free" by April Milani

“Freedom isn’t free” by April Milani

A: Looking through the eyes of a military child, the price of freedom becomes a lot clearer. I have the added weight of not only seeing it through the image of pictures like this, but through the daily sacrifice my children make missing their father and bearing witness to the sacrifices their father makes for his country.

Q: What is your message for parents with children who have Asperger’s?

A: I want to share this picture to illustrate my message. To some this picture may represent a child lost in the wood, but to Nathan, and I think to so many children with Asperger’s, this image represents something completely different – It is an opportunity to climb a thousand trees. While a diagnosis allows you educate yourself with what information is available, a lot of parents I think (and even I still struggle with this myself) feel boxed in along with that diagnosis. You can’t allow yourself – or your child – to be limited or lost. Once you can grasp their unique perspective, you are free to explore with them, but as long as you are trying to fit them in with how you perceive the world, you will always see the child lost in the wood, from the outside looking in.

april-milani

April Milani Website | April Milani Facebook Page | April on Flickr

 

Asperger’s Disorder is a milder variant of Autistic Disorder. It is also frequently called “Asperger’s Syndrome”. In Asperger’s Disorder, affected individuals are characterized by social isolation and eccentric behavior in childhood.

Many children with Asperger’s syndrome are exceptionally talented or skilled in a particular area, such as music or math.
The exact cause of Asperger’s syndrome is not known. Asperger’s syndrome has only recently been recognized as a unique disorder. For that reason, the exact number of people with the disorder is unknown.

While it is more common than autism, estimates for the United States and Canada range from 1 in every 250 children to 1 in every 10,000. It is four times more likely to occur in males than in females and usually is first diagnosed in children between the ages of 2 and 6 years. It is estimated that as much as 40% of children diagnosed with autism are also diagnosed with epilepsy.

This disorder can sometimes be effectively treated through various pharmaceuticals, but most recently has achieved a greater degree of awareness in the public eye as a result of advances in medicinal marijuana therapies. This new course of treatment has been shown to be particularly effective when used to treat seizures in children. As with any new medical advances, it is always beneficial to research and evaluate new courses of treatment available.

Epilepsy is a group of long-term neurological disorders characterized by epileptic seizures. These seizures are episodes that can vary from brief and nearly undetectable to long periods of vigorous shaking. In most cases the cause is unknown, although some people develop epilepsy as the result of brain injury, stroke, brain cancer. Epilepsy cannot be cured, but seizures are controllable with medication in about 70% of cases.
Source: Wikipedia

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  • Sara Dunlap

    Thank you for this wonderful interview of April Milani. April is my only sister’s daughter-in-law. She is an amazing woman and very deserving of this recognition. I love April and her family so much.

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