Photography and Autism - A personal journey

Like many parents, photographing or having my children photographed as they grew just seemed like a typical process. Newborn shots, 6 months, 12 months, holiday cards, you name it, I wanted it! When my son was born in 2015 I fulfilled many of those milestone photo sessions by seeking out photographers and getting him all dressed up ready for the camera. But things began to get harder shortly after his first birthday. He simply wouldn't sit or look, or pay any attention to take photos. 

My son was diagnosed at 22 months with being on the Autism Spectrum, naturally as a family we had no idea what that meant, how that looked, or what that would do for the journey we had planned for our son. One of the first notable changes to our regular routine was the consistency in which we took family pictures. Photo sessions began to cause anxiety in the family, they were not fun anymore, they were simply hard!

Although they were hard, I was determined to have family photos taken, but how? 

For a child with sensory processing issues, or trouble sitting still, a typical photo session or photoshoot is not easy. Posing is out of the question. Waiting in a crowed space for your turn to go is simply painful. Who wants that experience? No one does!

We began to shift expectations and with that I began to see some of the joy I once felt around capturing our families special moments float out the window. It began to take a toll on me as a person and a mother. I know that sounds dramatic and silly. To others these are just photos. To me, these photos helped mark the path of our journey as a family and to me photos are something to be cherished. 

So I began embracing the chaos and allowing myself to photograph my own children as they are. Natural. Real to life. In the lifestyle that we lead. And it works. I have learned a lot about taking photographs of a child who will NEVER sit still, look at a camera when asked, and spends lots of time stimming (noun: stimming - behavior consisting of repetitive actions or movements of a type that may be displayed by people with developmental disorders, most typically autistic spectrum disorders; self-stimulation). I hope to share this learned knowledge, as well as my art through photography with families that are looking for that special photograph.

As my journey as a photographer evolves I would have been remiss not acknowledging that it came from selfish space. I wanted to create a space that is safe, fun, and effective in photographing families with Special Needs children? Every person with different needs is well… different. By no means am I an expert in all things special needs, but what I bring to the table is empathy, understanding, and experience to help deliver a great photoshoot and an even better feeling when you leave. 

A few tips to help families who have children with special needs or in my case with an au-some child get through a photoshoot with smiles (maybe) and some wonderful captures:

  1. Throw your typical expectations of posing out the window. This is the hardest one, so we will start here. If your loved one cannot sit still to eat dinner, watch a show, or for any other reason when they are in their comfort zone, then there is no way they will do it when they are asked to do something out of their routine. This is why lifestyle photography is a great approach. Stim with your child. Spin. Play games. Sit on shoulders. Wear headphones or a chew necklace… just own what makes your loved one happy. 
  2. Time of day. There is something people really love about taking late day photos, it’s called Magic or Golden Hour. Those two hours before sunset are glorious when photographing. But let’s be realistic! A child that has a specific routine and who gets emotionally agitated by changing said routine, does not need to be kept up for a photoshoot. You are asking for a full meltdown, and when paying money for an artist to photograph your family, the last thing you want is to create an unhealthy space. So what’s the solution? Schedule your photoshoot when YOUR child is at his best, not when your photographer is. But understand what that means for the results. You wont have that golden sun in the background with a fabulous boho dreamscape. But what you will have is a happy family that is anxiety free and with the right photographer, beautiful photographs that are built for the situation you have created. 
  3. Find the right fit. Just as every person with a special need is unique, so is every photographer. If you need flexibility with a schedule in the event your child is having a difficult day, find someone who has a cancelation policy that works for you. Or if you really love a photographers style, be honest from the beginning and let them know your families situation. They may be able to accommodate or crate a specific policy for you to be sure your family is cared for. It never hurts to ask, but it can hurt to have a terrible experience and everyone be upset.

These were just a few takeaways as a mama of an au-some kiddo… I hope they help. And remember, follow the sol and let your light shine through.

Till the next click!