In honour of World Autism Awareness Week (27th March – 2nd April) we thought we’d talk to a Mum with first-hand experience about the difficulties some families may experience with organising a photoshoot. We wanted to see what we could potentially learn from her to ensure we gave others a wonderful experience.
Here’s what one of our Facebook followers Lu, who has five children, one of whom is autistic, had to say.
“The difficulty with autism is once you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum. There is no one-size fits all with this, which means there’s no one-way to handle any situation.
For our family, photo shoots have always been difficult, not just because we are a large family and that’s hard to choreograph in itself, but because of our four year old. His social and communication disorder makes it difficult for him to follow instructions or pay attention for long. He struggles to make eye contact, and because he doesn’t like to interact with strangers it’s impossible for a photographer to build rapport with him to get a good shot.
Like many four year olds standing still is not high on his list of priorities, but unlike many other children, you can’t bargain or coerce him in to doing it. Saying “just one photo and then have a sweet” never registers, he’s not interested. Trying to pose him or guide him to do anything is also an impossible task, so getting that perfect group shot just isn’t going to happen. We’ve had to accept that, but if a photographer has it on the list of things to do, there is an expectation there we know we can’t meet.
We’ve found that the best way to get a good photo is to leave him be. If you don’t put any pressure on him to interact or perform, you can get some amazing candid shots. Many autistic children have a particular area of interest that fascinates them. For our son it’s dinosaurs, so we would also incorporate these in to any photos we want to get of him. As a photographer you could always ask a child if they can see the dinosaur, train or whatever it is they like in the lens of your camera.
Some children like to know how things work, what you’re doing and why. It can be a great idea to have a spare camera (ideally a relatively inexpensive one) that they can play with whilst you are taking photographs. Let them take your picture, and let them experiment as it can help them relax in to the situation.
Another great idea is to take photos from a distance, so you’re not encroaching on their personal space. If you don’t lay down any expectations, and are prepared to wait as long as it takes, there is no reason why you can’t get the most beautiful keepsakes.
Finally, ask the parents what will or won’t work. You may be the expert when it comes to the photographs and the camera, but they know their child. They know the warning signs, and can tell you what to definitely avoid. Some things are triggers, so perhaps you can’t say or do certain things.
In fact, in some cases it’s probably the parents you need to worry about more – they are so used to having to explain, face criticism and judgment for their child’s behaviour from people who don’t understand. If you create a safe and accepting environment for them, where they don’t have to apologise every five seconds, you will already have won the biggest battle.”
No one should ever feel they can’t access the beauty of a photoshoot for any reason, so please, if this is something you are worried about, talk to me. I will always do everything I can to ensure you are comfortable and have the experience that is right for you, or your family.
It would be great to hear from any of you who have any additional tips, or want to share any experiences you have already had of photoshoots with an autistic child (or adult, for that matter). Life is about learning, and the only way to do that is to listen.