Home with Johnny by Sandy Altamirano

The first heat wave of the year happened a few weeks ago. For many in Los Angeles, it was an excuse to get out of the house after the Stay at Home order was put in place. Thousands of Southern Californians flocked to the beaches of Orange County and Ventura County to bask in the sun and enjoy a refreshing dip in the water despite the current situation with CoVid-19. Sandy Altamirano is a professional photographer from Los Angeles, CA, and a single mother of an autistic child. She shares with us a few images that she captured of her family and her experience of parenting during the pandemic. - Joshua Zamudio

Editor - Joshua Zamudio / Editor - Jenae Lien / Photographed by Sandy Altamirano




Josh – What was your thoughts when the CoVid-19 pandemic hit Los Angeles?
Sandy - Like most people, I thought this situation was something we didn’t have to worry about. After time went by and I saw the changes happening around my community, I took the situation more seriously. In my household, it’s my mother and my son. My mother is in her late 50’s and my son is 10 years old. I worry about both of them, my mother who is healthy and still goes out for any essential needs, and my son who is experiencing the challenges of Covid-19. My son was diagnosed with Autism as a child. The challenges of caring for my autistic child has increased due to CoVid-19. He is unable to go to school, play with his friends, and experience a normal childhood life. “The Wiggles” as we call it, has made it difficult to adapt to our current situation. But I try my best to find ways for him to release the anxiety that builds up in him.
Josh – What has been your thought process and experience with having to parent your son and deal with CoVid-19?
Sandy - My son Johnny has a mild case of Autism. Luckily, he is able to communicate with me and also understands his surroundings, but he still struggles in communicating with other and in socializing. Every so often he does zone out and focuses on something that catches his interest and will gravitate towards it.  He does have has a hard time making friends with other kids his age, but has found some companionship with other children who are also autistic.
Sandy - I feel like it’s taking a toll on him, having to stay at home in quarantine has increased “The Wiggles”. From spending so much time in one place, he gets this explosive amount of anxiety, and he will let me know when he has an episode. I try to go out of the house to play in our parking lot or take him for walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes he wants to go outside, sometimes he doesn’t. As far as for me as a mother, I want him to go outside and play. Obviously we can’t go to a playground or anywhere that could be more entertaining, so I’ve looked up different ways to keep him entertained, like science experiments or other home projects but he is not always in spirit to participate. He does enjoy taking walks, so for the meantime that’s the only thing we are able to do.
Josh – Have you thought of how this will affect him after CoVid-19?
Sandy - When this all started with the CoVid-19 outbreak, he didn’t understand the situation. Like any other kid, he was kind of happy that school was cancelled. He was excited to stay home and not do homework and play video games. So, in the beginning he was really enjoying his time off, but after seeing for himself the changes around his community he began to grasp onto the idea of what the virus was and the changes that were implemented by our city officials. I did explain to him that these are the things that we have to do now - Social Distancing, the wearing of a face masks that covers our mouths, and constantly having to keep our hands clean.
He’s made a routine out of it now, and I’m always on top of him to make sure he is safe. It will take him some time to fully adjust to the new normal, but he is pretty understanding of the whole situation now.
Josh – What changes are you experiencing and how has the pandemic affected you?
Sandy - For me, since I am a freelance photographer, a lot of my paid opportunities got cancelled or postponed. But the biggest challenge for me is having to adjust my routine. I feel restless now. Like most people, the anxiety and depression that has come along with being affected by the pandemic has developed a lot of uncertain thoughts. But I try to remain hopeful. I am a person who likes to have control over my life and right now we can’t really control anything. We just have to ride through this and hope for the best.
Josh – What are you looking forward too after this is all over?
Sandy - We all have our own perspective on how we see this playing out. But I do plan on finding more photoshoots and assignments I can work on. I am hopeful for a good outcome, but I know this is going to take time to adjust. I’ve been working on my website and my work portfolio. I also hope that my son will able to go back to school and receive the education that he needs.
Josh – Describe the photographs that you took of your son that are shared in this article.
Sandy - It was a hot day, the first hot day of the year actually. We were at home and I was observing him as the day started. I try to photograph him as often as I can. He was standing by the window just staring outside and “The Wiggles” came to him. The photograph with him holding onto his video game controller - he wasn’t playing a game. He just started to fidget with the controller. He was walking around with it frustrated. I really wanted to take him to the beach, but I didn’t want to expose him to any dangers. So, I asked him if he wanted to play outside with a water gun. It took him a while to agree to go outside, but after a few minutes we finally went and just hanged out in our driveway. My mother joined us and as she watered the plants around the house, my son played with his water gun, the neighborhood cats joined in on the fun and hung out with Johnny as he sat inside of my SUV. We enjoyed the heatwave, got wet, and had a good time. It was long overdue, but we made the best out of our day. I often catch him just staring into a gaze, and I always try to photograph him when he does that. For me, I wonder what is on his mind. I wonder what goes on in his head when he zones out. He does get mad when I photograph him too often, but I try to remind him that these photographs are proof of what you’ve lived through. Maybe someday he can show it to a family of his own.
Josh – For anyone reading this article, is there any advice you would like to give to anyone who can resonate with you?
Sandy - I think that for all parents, going through quarantine with their families is difficult. I’ve been seeing my son act out and express his true feelings about this situation and it can be overwhelming. But I’ve found support through a small organized group called “Autism Moms,” where we share our experiences and give ourselves closure when things feel hard. Ultimately we just have to listen to how our kids are feeling and try to make it as comfortable for them as possible.

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