Yeah, Alterism. It’s a new word, coined by my son (who has dyspraxia, often confused with Autism). I like it. It sounds better than Autism. But I digress…
This post is for all the photographers out there who ever wonder how I photograph children with autism and their families. I am often asked for tips on how to work with these kids. I should preface this by saying that families with special needs kids are my favorite to work with because they are all supportive of each other, even if they don’t think they are and that often shows in the photos, so don’t be nervous.
It is often said that kids with Autism avoid eye contact, have under-developed social skills, are very particular, etc. This may be true, but it does not mean that they are difficult to photograph. If you try to pose a child with Autism, you will not win. Trust me. If you ask a child with Autism to smile, it will likely not work. Do not engage in a battle of will…you will lose as the photographer.
For this photo, I asked my friend Hayden to stand on a brick. She watched her siblings do this and so she wanted a turn as well. I did not ask her to do anything. I just was ready with my camera to shoot any expression she displayed. Her family talked to her, and I did as well. Hay-Hay often extends her thumb and also carries a toy at all times. I like to capture this because this is “her”. If the client’s parent doesn’t like that, shoot tighter or crop it out.
Not all photos are happy and typical of the smiles that photographers usually deliver to a client. My goal at this session was to photograph Hayden with her family and also to capture her expressions.
I often see this one when she has her head out the open car window on her way to school, it always makes me smile.
This series is just some everyday looks. She stood on a platform and rocked, played with her toy and listened to all of us cheering at her. I was just ready with the camera. These are some very typical expressions for Hayden.
And back to the thumb extension and carrying toys… I have had parents ask me for photos of their child looking expressive, or without evidence of Autism. Parents don’t usually want to buy photos of their children stimming, or showing obsessions. However, I feel like this is part of the child and I like to capture it. Hayden always has a pretend ice cream cone in her hand. It is typically two items representing the cone and then the ice cream. Today, it was a lollipop with a plastic toy on top. It makes her feel good. In a photo shoot, the child has to feel comfortable. If you cannot get the child to be settled without a toy or object, you need to work around it with composition.
My last favorite portrait of Hayden expresses how I personally feel about Autism. While no two cases of Autism are alike, the common theme I notice is that there seems like there is a veil surrounding the child and underneath that, is a child who wants to talk, communicate, play and express themselves in ways that most people would understand. At times you see through that veil and observe versions of the non-autistic child within. Its frustrating when you see that glimpse vanish as quickly as it appeared.
Hayden is so lucky to have two sisters and a brother who love her and care for her. And, for those guys, I asked them to pose for their portraits.
And when all else fails, if you still insist on posing a child who does not want to pose, or is incapable of taking direction, just have their family play and interact with them!
You may even have Dad photo-bomb a pic or two.
If you have a loved one severely affected with Autism, I would love to work with you!
What do auctions, hiking and cancer have in common? ME! Remember when I hiked 28.3 miles in a day to raise money for CureSearch–an organization that funds pediatric cancer research? Well, that qualifies me to do the Alumni Ultimate Hike; they are going easy on us with only a 25.1 mile challenge (but more elevation). This means I need to raise $2,500 ASAP. This is where you come in…
I am auctioning off a photo shoot, all the fully edited Jpegs (approximately 20) and 3 wallet accordion books. You can place a bid on ebay, starting on July 21st at 9:00 PM. So hop over to ebay and bid on a photo shoot. Did I mention it will be tax deductible?
Here is a sampling of my work during the late summer and fall months…
Thanks bunches for reading this far and for your support!
It’s back to school time and I feel obligated to do my PSA to remind you to hug a teacher. Please support your teachers in any way you can; with your time, buy supplies, coffee or just say “thank you”. As a group, they are one of the most under-appreciated, under-paid and hardest working professionals. We have been so lucky with some of the rock star teachers both of my kids have had over the years.
Below are some photos of my kids’ Art teacher. And, I am lucky to volunteer in her class. We are thankful to have such an awesome teacher in our lives for the past five years. She is beautiful, too!
And a few photos with her daughter, who was my assistant. Or maybe she ate the chips I brought with me in case someone got hungry… I don’t know but she is a rock-star, too.
I have a thing for seagulls. There. Another quirky confession. To be honest, I hated those birds just as much as anyone else; they steal your food, sh!t on your head and just generally annoy the hell out of you. Then, I became a Mom. One of my son’s greatest joy in life is summoning every bird in a 5 mile radius and feeding them popcorn ( http://josphotomojo.com/?p=2485 ). The joy these birds bring him is priceless. I was away for a girls weekend–no kids allowed. The seagulls must have sensed my son’s blood line was in town because they swarmed outside of our hotel room. I will have to take my little dude back here one day. He will be in heaven.
Meet my friend Hayden. She has Autism. More than that, I cannot tell you how thankful I am to know Hayden. Without getting all mushy-gushy, she has taught my children how to be understanding, inclusive and nurturing. Hayden plays water balloons with us, she loves trampolines and popsicles. She also loves playing with my kids and her three siblings. She never leaves home without her plastic ice cream cone and will steal your diet coke faster than someone stranded on a desert for a week. She is happy, she gets mad, sad and excited, just like you and I do. She is seven years old. She communicates but cannot speak in ways that most people can understand. My kids love her, her family loves her and I love her.
We went to Hayden’s dance recital last week. Triangle Academy of Dance offers dance class for children with special needs. She got all dressed up in her cute little tu-tu. The doors opened, warm-ups began and Hayden was not interested in joining the group. Not one bit. Her sister, who volunteers as a dance instructor for the class, tried to encourage her on the dance floor. No. She tried to carry her out on the dance floor…No. Hayden wanted to rock (more about that in a bit). Since she doesn’t speak, no one really knew why she did not want to participate. Maybe it was the music, maybe all the people, maybe she was just tired. She protested so much that she positioned herself between the dance bar and a wall mirror so no one to make her dance.
Eventually, her sister came over to the part of the dance floor where Hayden was hanging out to do the warm ups one on one with her. She was okay with that. Hayden did some stretches with her sister, who is an awesome dancer. She did a few twirls and then she was ready to join the group!
I mentioned that Hayden likes to rock. She often moves her hed and neck forward and backward. She will at times rock her whole body with great intention and determination. She also sometimes points to the side of her mouth and she sometimes extends her thumb or her whole wrist. These movements are called stereotypies. These are thought at times to be comforting or soothing; you may have heard this called “stimming”. The next time you see a person doing a repetitive movement, smile rather than staring. No one likes to be started at, she knows you are staring. You can say “hi”.
After much encouragement, Hayden it made out on the dance floor with the group! Parachute time!!! Who doesn’t love that? Even my son could not contain himself and under the guise of “helping” Hayden, he went out there with her.
Kids with autism may dance differently than you, they may participate in group activities differently that you, that’s ok. They want to participate, just like you want to be with people you love. Don’t exclude those on the autism spectrum. If you don’t know how to include them, they will teach you how they want to be included. Or simply ask the people who they are with, they will be happy to teach you.
I am starting a new series of photos to create awareness about Autism. While many of the family photos I post include children with autism, this series will be different. Before I do a formal introduction of my friend, I just wanted to share this photo of her and my son.
This little girl is a special friend to my own children who have learned so much from her. I will be forever grateful for having her in our lives. I have taken her out with us a few times now and I am taken back by the negative comments that I hear from people. And while adults should know how prevalent autism is in current society, our kids need to know that some their friends, both at home and at school, have autism even if its not discussed.
We started our series at a dance recital for children with special needs. Our friend was not so sure she wanted to be with her dance group. My son decided to jump in and help her by dancing with her and he tried to keep her in the dance moment. I love this photo since it shows that kids with autism do have friends and that others want to be friends with her. Autistics are not always isolated and uninterested in social contact– communicate with them, even if they communicate with you in ways you are not accustomed to. They are listening.
…And when I am quiet, there is alot of thinking taking place. I have not been shooting much lately. I really needed a break. We are also dealing some family needs that I’ve been tending to and I am currently focusing my energies at home.
I finally felt motivated to take out the camera. I have been spending alot of time trying to figure out what motivates me about photography. Through conversations with those close to me, I have figured out that I am motivated to bring forth issues that people, or society in general, do not wish see. I have always known that about myself, but I guess I never really thought about channeling my energy to accomplish that through my work.
I have recently been spending some time with a little friend on the autism spectrum. While waiting in line with her to enter school or waiting in line at Starbucks (where else am I willing to wait??) I hear people making comments about her and to me about her; the comments that are not the most understanding or encouraging. It is so frustrating that my fellow adults are less understanding or interested in learning about autism than the children I know.
I took this photo of myself. It speaks to the mask or shield we hide behind when we experience things that may not be embraced by others–sadness, hardships, confusion. We are a society of people who should support each other. How can we as adults teach our kids to be kind, loving and confident when as adults we hide from much of the reality of what we and others endure? Its time to take a good look at what we are doing, how we act and the behaviors we model for our children. There should not be shame in what our life brings us and what we experience, nor should we be judged for our experiences. I am sure we have all felt the way I am depicted in this image, and if you honestly cant relate, I am sure someone you love has. Why do we need to conceal it?
At this point, I will be working exclusively on photography projects that work to depict issues that society doesn’t support; issues like mental illness, physical illness, alternate lifestyles, any topics that needs attention and awareness. And, my own personal mission of doing fundraisers to bring iPads to the classroom, especially special education classrooms.
I love to see my friends. Its just a little unnerving when they are on the other side of my camera. I stress out because I want to do an extra special good job. I am a perfectionist at heart. Well, this time was so much fun. Everyone laughed, rolled in grass, and laughed some more.
We got Mom and Dad in on the fun. They had so much fun laughing that at least one of them had their eyes closed in every photo but these two. but that’s okay because all you need is one!
And look at these lashes and freckles… LOVE!
My son brought me the mail and I found a funky box with MY name on it. Well, I met one of my favorite little friends the other night for a mini-session. I have so much fun with these boys that I wanted to have their Mom take a picture of me and her kids. We we all got silly and made crazy faces. See how much fun I am??
My little friend baked me cookies and mailed them to me. He drew a picture of us in the grass with us telling each other “I like you”. My heart is happy. Did I mention that my Starbucks in on them tomorrow? But really, I love his card.
Who is it that started the rumor that kids with autism are not social? Seriously? How awesome is he??
Last weekend was peak pollen season here in NC. To the rest of the country it means there is a solid coating of green on every outdoor surface. To a photographer this is more than annoying because its messy, it looks ugly, and it makes people annoyed. I almost postponed this family’s session. But I went ahead as planned. How lucky were we that the rock-star Mom MADE all the clothes in mint green? How did she know it would be all pollen-y outside for her shoot. Thanks to her, I had minimal shmootz to photoshop off of the clothing. And I love all the cool colors.
I also remembered that I had a parasol prop and I brought it along for this young lady.