Jacquelyn Jablonski Speaks For Autism
The walls of Milk Gallery will be lined with artwork as usual this Thursday. A Sebastian Kim black-and-white print of two young boys running through waves will hang alongside a Sean and Seng print of top model Jacquelyn Jablonski embracing a grey dog while on a shoot in Rome. There will be cocktails and an auction, but instead of representing an artist’s oeuvre, however, the focus of this event will be autism.
“I want to introduce my brother and his condition to the industry,” Jablonski, 22, says of A Night for Autism, the second fundraising event she has organized to benefit Autism Speaks. “Not a lot of people in the fashion industry are talking about autism, and autism is a big deal. More and more kids are being diagnosed.”
Jablonski was 6 when her brother Tommy was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
“At the time, I had no idea what autism was. I just thought, ‘Oh, they’ll find a cure,’” she recalls. But when the doctor told her Tommy would never speak, Jablonski suddenly became scared. She didn’t want to believe it.
“I also didn’t realize how big it was, how many kids had been diagnosed,” she says.
According to a Centers for Disease Control study released last week, about 1.2 million Americans under the age of 21 have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, a 30 percent increase from 2012. Autism is a general term for the group of complex disorders affecting brain development. It is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Autism is a condition that is managed – with therapy and medication – but not cured. The main goals of treatment, which varies case by case, are to increase quality of life and functional independence.
“I always wonder, what is next for Tommy, what is next for this generation of kids? He’s 18 now and he’ll be done with school at 21. But what’s next? What can we do?” Jablonski says.
The money raised from auctioned prints will go toward research, but what Jablonski would love to see is the development of a job program which would allow her brother and others with autism to develop active, productive lives.
“I don’t want to see him just sitting at home. I want to see him constantly learning and constantly growing,” she added.
Last year, when Jablonski first started speaking on autism, she brought Tommy with her on a shoot and saw how being active could help him thrive.
“At first, he was not into it. Just looking around, refusing to make eye contact or listen” she recalled. “But by the time we were about to leave, we had everything ready to go, and he said, ‘Wait, one more picture, one more picture, one more picture.’”
Everyone had already changed back into their casual clothes, but at Tommy’s urging they started taking more photos. “He just didn’t want to stop. He was even following the photographer’s direction,” she added. “It’s these little things that we as a family notice, these changes in him. We want other families to have the same opportunities to see such changes.”
Photo by Driu & Tiago