Brian: Pursuing Passions in Photography and Teaching


A dark skinned man in a white tshirt, with the words "Caribbean" on it, smiling at the camera


Brian is 23 years old, lives near Boston, Massachusetts, and has autism. He has a passion for photography, which he uses to share his perspective with the world via his website, through the eyes of Brian. He also enjoys taking self-designed community trips and hiking in the mountains. Brian is driven, committed to doing what he sets his mind to, and willing to take on new challenges. Over time, Brian has developed a strong interest in working in a school. Currently, Brian works every weekday at a school cafeteria in the greater Boston area, preparing and serving food and doing other tasks as needed. Brian hopes to become a teacher’s assistant or an art teacher someday.

What’s Important:

Growing up, Brian’s family encouraged him and made sure he had opportunities to explore and discover his interests. When he was interested in taking a road trip, his family let him use his strong planning skills to plan much of the trip. When he was interested in cars, his family took him to a car dealership to look at all the cars. As Brian’s mom put it, “I think it does start with the family a little bit, just allowing that person to be open with the possibilities, not just, okay, we just trained you to do this and that's that.” She added, “You need that person that's going to be like, ‘okay I need to listen to this young person, find something they like and then be able to help them, not tell them what they're going to do, but help them kind of move towards it’.” This, she noted, allows youth to explore their interests and build and expand their skillsets.

Brian’s passion for photography began when he was in sixth grade. While Brian took up photography completely on his own, his family and teachers supported him to further explore and develop his skills. When he asked his family for a “good” camera, they encouraged him to do research on different types of cameras and their prices before they eventually found his first professional camera.
At school, Brian’s teachers also noticed his interest in photography and gave him early opportunities to develop that skill by taking pictures of school events and activities. “I think that's probably why he has such a connection to them,” said Brian’s mom about his teachers, “because they just took that skill and went with it, thought outside the box.”

Brian takes many of his photos when he’s on his self-designed community field trips around Boston and beyond. As Brian shares on his website, “My photos offer a unique perspective to my world and to the places that I visit. For example, my Boston pictures may add places to views that you may have missed or introduce you to places you may not have been before, even if you live in Boston.” Brian compiles his photos into calendars that capture images of nature and outdoor scenery. He sells his calendars online.

Brian’s interest in becoming an assistant teacher also started while he was in middle school. After Brian’s art teacher noticed how talented he was, they started involving him in assisting with the younger children’s classes. Brian’s mom shared, “When he made the calendars, they helped him to use an order sheet and as long as he did his work, he could help out the younger classroom.” Brian continued to develop this interest during his senior year of high school.

Brian attended a school where all the seniors were expected to complete an internship before graduation. With support from his family and the school, Brian got an internship as an assistant to the music teacher. As part of his internship, Brian helped the music teacher prepare for class, take attendance, hand out instruments and class materials, and complete other related tasks. Brian took his responsibilities seriously and was very successful in his internship.

This unpaid internship experience helped Brian get a paid internship work experience as an assistant teacher. He worked with his former art teacher assisting with various tasks. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 public health emergency imposed stay-at-home orders and caused the schools to close, which cut Brian’s work experience short. Brian has maintained contact with the school, and together, they are exploring opportunities for Brian to go back and finish his assistant teaching internship.

Since graduating high school, Brian has applied and interviewed for several teacher assistant positions in the school system. His organizational and safety awareness skills make him a good fit, but teaching assistance requires more advanced training. Brian earned a ServSafe certification as part of his post high school career readiness training. While Brian was applying for assistant teacher positions, he came across a job to work in a school cafeteria. Brian's ServSafe certification qualified him for the role. He applied, interviewed, and was hired to work in the school cafeteria. Although it is not his dream job, working at a school cafeteria is going well and he enjoys being part of the team, participating in the holiday party celebrations and other team activities. Commenting about his job at the cafeteria, Brian’s mom noted, “He has definitely always wanted to stay in the school environment. I think that’s why this job is really working well, because he really does like working at the school.” Brian continues to work with his family and job coach to develop a plan for pursuing further training so he can become an assistant teacher.

What Happened:

Brian nurtured both his passion for photography and his interest in working in a school with support from his family and teachers. Brian’s pursuit of his passion for photography not only added his unique perspective to the field, but also provided him an opportunity for self-employment. He continues to use his photos to develop calendars for sale. Over the last school year, Brian worked full-time in a high school cafeteria. Brian continues to look for a job as an assistant teacher and is exploring options to pursue further training in this area, with support from his family and job coach.


Lessons Learned:

  • Provide opportunities for youth to be self-determined. Youth need opportunities to develop plans for activities and then opportunities to implement the activities. Brian’s family supported this when they encouraged him to create self-designed trips in his community, the city, and in the mountains.
  • Support activities that help youth make informed choices. The ability to make informed choices is an important part of having autonomy for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. When Brian requested a professional camera for his photography, his family recommended that he research different types of cameras and supported him in deciding which camera best met his needs.  
  • Use existing opportunities to reach an employment goal. Like for many of us, Brian’s first few jobs are not the final goal. While Brian is pursuing additional training to reach his employment goal, he is working in a school environment, which addresses part of his employment goals. While maintaining high expectations for his future, Brain is building his resume and employment network.