This really should be titled “5 Tips for Photographing Children With Autism Without Losing your Mind.” Sadly, that title is too long:( Autism has many challenges: sensory issues, melt downs, limited communication, and the most awkward family photos imaginable. It’s funny the things we take for granted before our life with Autism. Like good photos… sanity… and sleep. They say wisdom is the tears of experience and I’ve cried a river over bad pictures. Managing photos with your child on the spectrum doesn’t have to give you a break-down. Here are 5 tips for photographing kids with Autism.
Tip #1: Ditch the photographer and take getting good pics of you child into your own hands. You’ve mastered ABA, Floortime, OT, PT, Speech Therapy, Hippotherapy, RDI, and attended countless appointment with professionals with at least 3 letters after their names. Most women have no idea what those letters even mean. You can manage a DSLR and 12 settings! You’ve got this!!!
Our daughter Willow’s Autism is pretty severe. One of many, many difficulties she has is bad sensory issues. Like really, really bad. Photographing her can be challenging. Actually, keeping her in the same room with you is challenging. Getting her to stand next to you and smile? Impossible! As you can see, she is loving this.
Family pictures can be hectic anyway but add autism to the mix and you’ve got down right chaos. She’s so overwhelmed that you can’t get her to look at the camera. Most of the time, she would run, start crying or have a meltdown. Good times. As you can see in the photo below, my family is huge. Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it. When you have 70 people in a picture, someone’s not going to be happy. It’s just how it is. Sometimes its you, sometimes, its not.
Tip #2: Posed photos are going to make you want to curl up in the fetal position. Maybe neuro-typical kids might tolerate it but your child on the spectrum, will not. Chances are “cheese” will not work. So if you opt to skip tip #1, make sure you talk to your photographer/ friend/ family members about your child’s limitations and triggers. If you have to put in an appearance in your extended family’s photo, prepare, prepare, prepare. You may want to talk to your family about doing individual pictures at another time and wearing the same clothes you take the group photo in. We’ve done that. It works. Very well.
Several years ago, our family took a huge group photo to give as a gift to Chris’ Grandpa (see above). For some odd reason, Willow always tries to cut her own hair before pictures. It’s just baffling. You’re going to have to trust me when I tell you she’s not exactly Edward Scissorhands. One of her first attempts at cutting her own hair cut now affectionately named the “pixie mullet.” Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and try and visualize that for a minute. Are you laughing yet? Me too (on the inside).
Anyway, she cut her hair (again) right before the shoot. I was obviously disappointed. Drats. Pictures. foiled again. It was 4th of July and my kids barber, who is a saint in my book, was closed. In the group photos Willow’s butcher job wasn’t obvious because they were far away. The close ups of Willow were the only problem and we were putting together a photo book. My Sister-In-Law Kathy suggested I fix her hair, dress her up in the same clothes, and go back and photograph her in the same spot. She is a genius. Look at the photo. It’s the best one she’s ever taken. It surprised even me!
Tip 3: Use Props and take someone with you to help. The photos above I took my son Landon with me and we used bubbles, waved a shiny new headband, and sang and distracted her. We looked like lunatics but we are used to people staring by now. The kids don’t mind helping and it beats making yourself crazy. I snapped a few of him and got some one-on-one with both. I buy special things when I want to get good photos of my daughter. Bribing works. I am that Mom.
Tip #4: Embrace their quirkiness! Your child is unique. Beautiful. One of a kind. Let your images be as distinctive as your child. Do not waste your time looking at Pinterest images of families who are in no way living your life. Your child’s favorite shirt looking a little shabby? Your daughter has to wear headphones because the noise is too much? Let them wear it. Who cares.
Last year, Nita hosted Easter at the farm. In the photo above, Willow did NOT want to take off her headphones. She kept closing her eyes and saying “cheese!” If you look at the photo, it captures everyone’s personality and it is one of my favorite family photos. Ever. She even had her shoes off! My dad’s bulldog has a bad case of simple chronic halitosis. In other-words, her breath stinks. Look at August’s face!
Tip #5: Photograph them in their own environment, or in an environment that’s interesting to them. Some of my best photographs have been out at my Dad’s farm, Sunset Hill. Photographs of them while they are engrossed in play, laughing, or having a moment with a sibling are going to be the most powerful images and resonate with people. My family loves going through our old photos and remembering the people and places that were captured in those images.
The last tip I can tell you is a no-brainer, Mom. Don’t forget to get in the photo! I gave my Dad a huge album full of hundreds of photos I had taken of my family at his farm. My Step-Mom called me and pointed out that although they really loved the gift, they noticed there wasn’t even one picture of me. I never even noticed when I was putting together the album because I’m so used to photographing everyone else. Ugh. My brother, Sam, snapped this photo the same day!