Photographer With Autism Shares Profound Vision

by | Apr 24, 2015

At 2 ½, Forrest Sargent lost the ability to communicate. At 14, he got back in touch using a letterboard. At 19, he spelled out “C-A-M-E-R-A” when asked what he wanted for his birthday.

“I wanted to show the light I see shining in all things,” he spelled during a recent conversation about his art and life.

Now 24, in a Seahawks cap and striped sweater, Sargent has the restless energy of a lanky adolescent, and it sputters forth in guttural sound, flapping hands, relentless scratching above his left ear. But that’s just his body. His inner thoughts, revealed through his photographs and facilitated rapid-prompting with a letterboard, are profound.

“I want people to touch the beauty around the world so they are glad to be alive,” Sargent spells.

His photographs capture sky reflected in water, the rhythm of wood, the explosive happiness of dahlias—an image he titled “Noisy But Nice.” Most of Sargent’s images focus on nature. When walking and hiking with his parents around local parks or Washington Park Arboretum, he captures moments with a camera rigged to a monopod.

“When I take photos, I feel scared I will change the truth of a great scene because it is perfect in nature,” Sargent spells. “But I try to catch the essence of it.”

Later, he looks at the images and titles them: “Bluegate” for an image of sky framed by trees; “Rock In The Sky” interposes elements of rock, sky, water; other titles reference the divine. “I look at the photo and think about: What is there, really?” Sargent spells. “What is the divine spirit? All is light. All is divine but most people can’t see it,” Sargent says.

Forrest’s parents, Rebecca and Denny Sargent, joke that their son is their guru. “We’re not church-goers. We’re Seattlites! We do mantras and Buddhist practices. He has tapped into something on his own.”

Rebecca and Denny were living in Japan, teaching English, when Forrest was born. He was a happy, social child who played with toys and other kids and spoke both English and Japanese. Then, when he was 2 ½, shortly after their return to the U.S., their toddler started unraveling. “It was like watching your kid fall in a river and start sinking,” Denny says.

Forrest lost language as well as non-verbal communication. As he grew older, he had violent periods. “We tried everything. Everything, everything, everything from homeopathy to osteopathy to cranial sacral, patterning, a variety of different medications. Nothing really worked. He was pretty crazy,” Denny says. For awhile, a gluten-free, cassein-free diet helped calm him—until puberty hit.

But Forrest’s parents never gave up. “I knew there was something in there,” Rebecca says. When Forrest was 12, they were trained in a rapid-prompting technique using a letterboard to help Forrest focus long enough to point to individual letters of the alphabet, and after years of practice, master words and sentences.

Now, the man who has trapped inside Sargent’s body can express himself. “It’s lonely, but things r better becuase I can talk to people,” Sargent spells. “It is hard to talk and to get people to c I’m smart. Maybe this interview will teach people about people like me.

“I am proud of my life. I am much calmer and I’m not crazy anymore and I love my parents.”

Recently, Rebecca asked him, “Do you want a job?”

He spelled, “I want meaningful work.”

What do you want for your next birthday?

“I want a horse.”

See Forrest Sargent’s photographs at