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The Link Between Autism and Taking Pictures

December 29, 2023

Say “cheese!” Taking pictures is a way to capture memories we want to keep forever. But when we look back at the pictures, there’s almost always a story of challenges. With autism and taking pictures, there are many of them. This is especially true for parents of children on the autism spectrum, whether it’s professional pictures or candid shots.

Sitting for long periods of time can be tough for neurotypical children. Add in an autism diagnosis, and those challenges can increase. But there are ways to help accommodate your child’s needs while taking pictures.

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Sensory sensitivity

One of the key problems that can arise when trying to take pictures of autistic children is sensory issues. Some children with autism spectrum disorder may struggle with bright lights, loud sounds, or sudden movement.

Depending on the type of picture being taken, one or all of these could be present, causing trouble for the child. For example, bright flashes from the camera can trigger visual sensory issues.

Loud noises, such as a group of people saying “cheese” in unison, can make things hard for those who struggle with sound processing. In some scenarios, someone jumping into the picture last minute can lead to a sudden movement that may upset autistic children.

Sensory-friendly photo environments

Parents can establish sensory-friendly photo environments to meet the needs of each individual child. Some of these include:

  • Picking the correct photographer: Not all great photographers are great at understanding autism.
  • Picking the correct lighting: The parent must help the photographer set the correct light based on the child’s sensitivities.
  • Picking the correct location: Some sites may be beautiful, but if they set off a child’s sensory sensitivities, they won’t work for that child.
  • Picking the correct wardrobe: Coordinated outfits for a family portrait may look cute, but if the child is uncomfortable, the final picture will not look very good.
  • Bringing something familiar: Some children may need a stuffed animal or sensory toy to sit still long enough to take a picture.

Each child is different, but addressing their sensory needs before trying to take their picture will go a long way to giving everyone the desired outcome.


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Personal experience

Photographing children is never easy, but getting fun family photos or candid shots can be extra tough for children on the autism spectrum. Luckily, there are ways to have fun with children with autism and taking pictures.

One year, my in-laws wanted to take a picture of my oldest son in front of a Christmas tree. They expected to take a cute picture of a two-year-old in his Christmas sweater with a big smile on his face.

Instead, he fought with them tooth and nail until he could hold a paintbrush. To this day, no one knows why exactly he wanted to hold a paintbrush, but there’s an adorable picture of him grinning ear to ear in front of the Christmas tree, holding a paintbrush.

For my younger son, it’s a little different. He doesn’t listen to requests like my older son does. He doesn’t often make eye contact, and he’s not known for sitting still.

For his first school picture day, a teacher had to sit with him and hold him to ensure the photographer could take his picture. As he’s gotten older, he can now sit on his own for a few pictures.

One year, his teacher said he only wanted to play with his Pop-it sensory toy. She gave him the pop-it, and whenever he looked up, the photographer took a quick picture without the flash.

Those were the best school pictures we’ve ever had because they are the only ones with him smiling. Taking pictures of my kids isn’t easy. But we’ve still found a way to make those moments more enjoyable for them and for us.

Autism and Taking Pictures

We all love those pictures of our family members, whether professional or candid, but we must always take the feelings of our autistic children into account. What works for one child may not work for another.

A natural environment may seem like a great place for a picture, but if it triggers sensory issues, it may not be the best place for photographing children. With a little time and effort, however, you can find the right place and way to take a nice picture of your loved one to cherish forever.

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FAQs

Q: Do autistic kids like their picture taken?

A: The preference for having their picture taken varies among autistic children, as each individual is unique. Some may enjoy it, while others may find it uncomfortable or distressing due to sensory sensitivities or challenges with social interactions.

Q: How can I make taking pictures more comfortable for an autistic child?

A: Consider their sensory needs, communicate clearly about the process, and provide a familiar and calm environment to help minimize potential discomfort.

Q: Are there specific photography techniques that could help individuals with autism?

A: Using visual schedules, offering choices, and providing breaks during photo sessions can be helpful. Additionally, using natural lighting and avoiding distracting backgrounds may enhance the experience.

References:

Performance challenges for children and adolescents with difficulty processing and integrating sensory information: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20608274/

Sensory processing in children with and without autism: a comparative study using the short sensory profile – PubMed (nih.gov)
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17436841/ 

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