Train conductor & photographer brings autism awareness through his art


Phil Martin Jr. uses his photography to spread autism awareness. (Courtesy: Phil Martin Jr)

WASHINGTON (WDVM) — A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s what train conductor and photographer Phil Martin Jr. aims to achieve through his work.

The Washington, D.C. conductor, who is on the autism spectrum, is speaking out about awareness for the disorder.

Martin was diagnosed with autism at a young age. He has also suffered from homelessness and PTSD — however, his dream was to one day make his love for trains a career.

“People would always ask me when I was young, ‘Why do you always play with trains? Why do you ride the metro for no reason?’,” said Martin.

Fast forward years later, and Martin is now a conductor for Amtrak, but spends his spare time taking photos for “Autism Speaks” and attending public speaking engagements about the disorder.

His next autism awareness project? A series of photos of different people who are also on the spectrum.

“Through my photography, and through my social media, and through what I talk about, I’m trying to show people, ‘Hey, this is me on the spectrum, but I’m one story. Here’s a bunch of other people doing a bunch of amazing things,'” said Martin. “Autism doesn’t have one look. There is no ‘look’ to autism.”

Martin says that if he has any advice for a child with autism, it’s to follow your dreams, despite what anyone else thinks about your capability to achieve them.

“As long as something makes you happy, just stick with it,” said Martin. “There’s no limitation when it comes to autism.”

During a virtual video call interview with WDVM, Martin pointed to his back wall, decorated with numerous awards.

“I have these awards behind me from when I was in the fire department,” said Martin. “I don’t talk about it a lot, but some of these are life-saving awards…a medal of valor. These were given to someone on the autism spectrum.”

He says that he wants those with the disorder to know that their differences do not define them.

“If I knew, as a child, that someone with the same disorder as me was able to accomplish so many things…I would have been a lot more relaxed.”

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