19 Secrets to Taking Beautiful Photos of Children With Autism

When more than one parent reader asked our Mighty team for tips for photographing children with autism, we went to the experts — other parents! We asked our readers on Facebook to share their tips to getting a great photo.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “As a photographer with a daughter with autism, I find [taking pictures] is a great chance to work on eye contact, even if we can only grab it for a minute. I started by asking her to see if she could see something in my lens. Then, as she got more comfortable, we would work on short spurts of eye contact. I don’t usually pose her. The less you interfere while taking pictures, the better it will be.” — Kate Sytsma 

Kate Sytsma

2. “Don’t make it a big deal. Use your camera a lot so it feels normal to them to be photographed. I take hundreds of photographs every month, and my son just plays and does his thing without taking much notice. The minute I try to say ‘go by that’ or ‘turn toward me and smile,’ he melts down, but those aren’t the good photos anyways — the candid ones of him making discoveries or getting engrossed in something interesting are the good ones.” — Tristen Wuori

Tristen Wuori

3. “Hold something your child likes at the right eye level behind the photographer so their eyes and smiles are facing the camera.” — Lynn Siegler

Lynn Siegler

4. “[My daughter] responds to music. So if I want a picture, I sing to her or play music. Then I can get a great picture.” — Melissa Cote

Melissa Cote

5. “Take a full-length mirror and place it on a wooden deck or floor. Let the child look in the mirror and photograph the reflection.” — Andrea Armitage Connors

6. “Our son loves to see himself on the screen, so I bought a camera where the view screen on the back rotates and flips to the side so he can see himself in it. He smiles and makes faces, and I just click away.” — Susan Dietz

Susan Dietz

7. “We use short sessions and don’t tell him to pose, cheese or smile. We also make sure he’s not hungry or tired and has a book or toy. One of our best family pictures happened when he was melting down and I had a big lollipop in my purse.” — Kathryn Hazelwood

Kathryn Hazelwood

8. “My daughter is super into emotions right now, so I ask her to make a happy, silly, sad or bored face, and the finished product always somehow turns out pretty good. I’ve learned to be quick as well.” — Justin-Amanda Thiessen

Justin-Amanda Thiessen

9. “I take a video of my son. Then, I go through it frame by frame and I screen shot the frame I like. It’s a natural shot, and no one knows it was done that way.” — Larisa Shrewsbury 

Larisa Parker

10. “Photograph them doing something they love. My little man loves to play and be tickled, and we get the best shots of him when he’s in his element. Candid shots are always my favorites. They are genuine.” — Jessica Crane

Jessica Crane

11. “My son is 19 and has autism. We’ve learned through the years to let him guide us. Eye contact is never the issue. We want to see him smile through his eyes.” — Nicole Bonvini Del Purgatorio

Nicole Del Purgatorio

12. “I just take as many pictures as I can. They’re all natural and capture the pure joy in whatever [my son] is doing. Sometimes I even get a good one where he is looking straight at me that I’ve caught by playing peek-a-boo.” — Christie Ashby 

Christy Ashby

13. “Explain everything — what [the camera] is, what it does, why it does it and when it will do it. Doing so helps them to not be so afraid.” — Candace Gudenburr

14. “Patience, lots and lots of patience. Every child is beautiful and capturing those candid moments is where you will find them.” — Beverly Popolo 

15. “I use my zoom lens and catch my son doing something he enjoys from afar.” — Annabel Lawlor

Annabel Lawler

16. “I find it works best when my son is in his natural environment where he’s comfortable and doing something he loves. The photos can’t be rushed. He has always been fascinated with opening and closing doors. This photo was taken at our front door after it was opened wide. Pure joy.” — Tyann Sheldon Rouw

Tyann Sheldon Rowe

17. “My son loves reciting parts of movies, so I recite some of his favorite lines while the photographer snaps pictures. He’s giggling up a storm!” — Joyce Rohe

Joyce Rohe

18. “I’m a photographer and my son has autism. Be ready. Don’t push them — let them be themselves. I always ask if he can see the dinosaur, car or kitty inside my camera lens. Let them try out your camera and take your picture.” — Kirstin Aitken

19. “I try to make my son genuinely laugh. We talk, we laugh, and I just take the picture. He is who he is and he’s beautiful — looking at the camera or not. Truthfully, it’s the spontaneous, honest pictures that are the best. They show so much more heart than portraits.” — Jen Milburn
Jen Milburn

*Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Do you have your own tip? Let us know in the comments.


5 Things You Can Do to Help Children With Autism and Their Families

It’s 2015 and we’re seeing some pretty staggering statistics with regards to autism spectrum disorder (ASD): 1 in 68 children are on the spectrum, according to the CDC. I don’t know the reason and I certainly don’t have the answers, but I do know that with numbers like these, the odds are that your child might be in a class or a camp or an after-school program with the “1 in 68.” And for every one of them there are a few of us: their family.

Sometimes you’ll see us and never wonder or think a thing. But maybe we had a talk outside the classroom. Maybe we are both room moms or volunteering at gymnastics or bringing coolers to the soccer game. Maybe you’ve gotten to know us more than you thought you would. You’ve seen my face at school functions, the look in my eyes when things aren’t going the way I hoped and planned and you want to know: Is there anything you can do to help?

Yes, you with your big heart, yes, there are most definitely some things you can do to help:

1.  Ask me those uncomfortable questions.

Go ahead, ask them! When was she diagnosed? How did we know? Strengths? Weaknesses? Does she show affection? Can she solve complex math problems in her head? Have we tried a gluten-free diet? We so often keep ourselves removed from the experiences of others by not asking the questions circling in our minds. Don’t do that. Get to know my family. We won’t be offended. In fact, you will be immediately endeared to us because you cared enough to ask any question at all.

2. Ask us over for playdates!

Invite us to your birthday and end-of-the-year pool parties. Please. PLEASE! My kid need balloons, cupcakes and an occasional paper invitation in her backpack. Most importantly, she also needs time with your kids. Because the more time kids on the spectrum spend with neurotypical people, the more comfortable they might become with them. And I believe the more comfortable they become, the easier mainstream settings might be for them. So many kids on the spectrum can play just like anyone else (and want to play just like anyone else), but it could take time with your children to help us get to that.

3. Keep trying.

You’re going to say hi to my daughter, and she might walk right past you. You’re going to ask her a question, and she might not answer. You’re going to call her to do something, and she could stay right where she is, reading or drawing or playing by herself. Sometimes you have to say it twice, three times, maybe even more than that. But please keep trying, and if she feels comfortable talking to you, eventually you might get a response.

4. Cut them some slack.

Kids on the spectrum look like any other kid, so sometimes it’s hard to tell. But I believe having autism spectrum disorder might be like living on another planet where no one speaks your language and no one gets your jokes. It might feel like you’re constantly being bombarded with distractions and no one else seems to notice them. So if these kids start jumping up and down for no reason or curl up in a ball or become devastated by the simplest of directions, be as patient as you can be, give them a break and see #3.

5. When you teach your kid about diversity, don’t stop after race, religion and gender.

Teach them about disabilities. Teach them about mental illness. Teach them about wheelchairs and head injuries and amputations and rare diseases. Teach them respect and patience for all things outside the norm. Teach them all people are worth the time it takes to get to know them. Teach them a friendship with a special person makes you a more special person because your heart and your mind will grow a little bit bigger. Trust me, I know. I’m friends with one of them.

Betty Sweet Atkinson the mighty.1-001

Follow this journey on Betty Sweet Writes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

22 people with autism answer the question what's it like

22 People With Autism Answer the Question, 'What's It Like?'

When a Reddit user asked Redditors on the autism spectrum, “What’s life like?,” the responses poured in. Redditors with autism spectrum disorder explained the advantages, the challenges and the downright unique parts of living with autism, giving fantastic insight into a far too often misunderstood condition. You can read the full thread here.

Take a look at a few of the insightful comments below:

1. “Sometimes [it’s] awesome, other times it’s not. It takes longer to learn certain skills, like driving. And finding work is a nightmare. As for hobbies, you can really have a fantastic time with them since the focus is so strong. The issue is finding your place in a world that doesn’t feel quite right. It can really be rough, but I’m holding out until I find the place in society that is right for me.”

The issue is finding your place in a world that doesn't feel quite right.
Submitted by Reddit user nelleker

2. “The best way I can find to describe it is running on a different operating system than most other people. Your brain wants to hyper focus on a certain subject and never let go. It’s a jumbled mess that stumbles through life and somehow manages to get where it wants to go. Everything is fragmented and you only see details, not the big picture.”

3. “The good: I’m an extremely visual thinker, and I’m fairly sure that got me the job I’m about to start. I can solve a whole bunch of problems in seconds that others need a lot of help with. I have some hobbies I enjoy and the time to spend on them. The bad: I have social anxiety, can’t stand being in rooms with a lot (more than ten) people in them, don’t have a lot of friends and I’m too anxious to initiate a lot of contact with said friends.”

I can solve a whole bunch of problems in seconds that others need a lot of help with.
Submitted by Reddit user HALL9000ish

4. “I am known at work as either the guy who hears everything or is completely oblivious. If I’m intent on a project, you could be standing next to me, yelling my name, and I won’t hear you. On the flip side, when working on running the front of the store [where I work], I see and hear everything.”

5. “It’s not that I lack the social skills others have, it’s just that I had to learn them actively and have to keep them in the conscious part of my head whereas others can do this subconsciously. It’s why my mind is easily overwhelmed in social situations and it’s not easy to keep a train of thought going when your train of thought consists of what, for most people, flies under the radar completely.”

It's not that I lack the social skills other have, it's just that I had to learn them actively.
Submitted by Reddit user GryphonGuitar

6. “[It’s] normal. Except for the lack of friends. I haven’t talked to anyone outside of my family since the last day of school. I’m also empathetic to the point where I don’t eat because I feel bad for the food. When someone gets mad at me, I assume they hate me and avoid them for months.”

7. “You’re always aware of what all your senses are detecting. I’ll always know when the air conditioning is on or off, for example. I can’t focus on what’s on television if there’s a conversation in that room because I’ll be picking up the conversation and the television equally.”

You're always aware of what your senses are detecting.
Submitted by Reddit user MrStudentDude

8. “As a guy who [has] Asperger’s, social interaction is probably my biggest shortcoming. My main problem is that I simply abhor small talk. Questions like, ‘What are you majoring in?’ or ‘How many brothers and sisters do you have?’ just make it hard for me to stay interested in a conversation. I understand why we have those conventions. I’m just miffed that I can’t immediately jump into a conversation with someone by talking about our personal interests.”

9. “The anxiety can be insane and overpowering. There are days where I refuse to leave my house because the idea of interacting with people is just too overwhelming. As autistic people, we are constantly having to think about every little thing we do and say, which can be absolutely draining.”

We are constantly having to think about every little thing we say and do, which can be absolutely draining.
Submitted by Reddit user oblivionkiss

10. “Imagine being in the TV section of a Walmart or Sears and there are around 20 TVs on the wall. Each [is] tuned to a different channel and has the volume on. Now stand there and try to listen to just one of them.”

11. “In short, it’s like you were made to be on a different world with different rules, but you ended up on this one for some reason. Nothing in this world makes sense to you. People say and do weird things, ask you weird questions and get offended by things you think are completely fine. Eventually, you do learn most of the rules, but you always have to remind yourself of what to do.”

It's like you were made to to be on a different world with different rules.
Submitted by Reddit user MrStudentDude

12. “I act a lot. I’ve learned how to behave socially by using role models and mimicking their behaviors and memorizing their speech patterns. It results in sometimes awkward and weird slants to conversations, but over the years I’ve become progressively better at fine-tuning what to use when.”

13. “I offend so many people accidentally, and it’s so hard to convince people that no, really I wasn’t trying to be a [jerk] after the umpteenth time. I add the new interaction to my ‘social template’ folder but there’s always new ones to [mess] up on.”

I offend so many people accidentally.
Submitted by Reddit user lemew_lepurr

14. “It can be overwhelming sometimes. But it’s not unbearable once you find a support system. I have great friendships and a great relationship, and I have people in my life who aren’t afraid to let me know if I’ve made a social faux pas.”

15. “I have an extremely vivid imagination and often escape into my own world whenever I want. I also develop headaches whenever [I’m] around other people for too long or if there are too many people around.”

I have an extremely vivid imagination and often escape into my own world whenever I want.
Submitted by Reddit user ThisIsAnID

16. “I am 30 years old and still live at home. I have never moved out and likely will not for a long while. While I may be 30 physically, in most other ways, I’m still a kid. Socially, I feel about 10. Emotionally, I feel about the same age, and mentally, I feel about 13. I get along better with teens or kids. It isn’t that I cant get along with adults, I just don’t have as much in common with them.”

17. “It’s like having the volume knob on your sensory inputs turned up to 11, 24 hours a day, 356 days a year with no way to turn it off.”

It's like having the volume knob on your sensory inputs turned up to 11, 24 hours a day, 356 days a year.
Submitted by Reddit user clothesindeed

18. “I’m a huge fan of routine. I like being able to stick to a schedule… and having a really good idea of how my week’s going to play out. It also helps me remember to do essential stuff like prepare meals, brush my teeth, shower, etc… I have a tendency to forget otherwise. This can cause problems when something spontaneous or unexpected occurs, since I’ve already mentally prepared for how I thought events would unfold.”

19. “It feels like I am constantly walking around naked but no one else seems to notice. [I’m] always having to make sure my autism isn’t showing.”

It feels like I'm constantly walking around naked.
Submitted by Reddit user mello992

20. “I don’t place a lot of weight on decisions formed based on emotion. I believe there is a rational and logical solution to any problem and that people who let their emotions control their decisions should reconsider. My way of thinking has been quite helpful in my field of study (computer science), but not so much with my girlfriend (who is not on the spectrum).”

21. “As someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, it’s not that difficult. Yes, I had to learn things that come very easily to you, but some things come easily to me that may not come easily to you. You should also know that I am not an emotionless robot. I don’t like my emotions or how I react to them, but I don’t deny having them.” 

I am not an emotionless robot. I don't like my emotions or how I react to them, but I don't deny having them.
Submitted by Reddit user elyisgreat

22. “Life can be weird, uncomfortable, and, at times, great. I wasn’t diagnosed [with Asperger syndrome] until I had a mental breakdown in college… [It] really helped me understand why I was so different. I know I see the world completely different from other people now, and that’s OK. I have a complex set of tools to help me with it and a safety net of friends and loved ones who understand my challenges.”

I know I see the world completely different from other people now, and that's OK.
Submitted by Reddit user facedragger

*Some responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

When My Autistic Son Gave Me the Best Birthday Gift Ever

Today is my birthday, and I’m one year shy of reaching a milestone age. But today, I’m celebrating an even bigger, more important milestone. My son with autism gave me a wonderful gift — one I’ve been waiting 30 years to receive.

We had a conversation.

It’s true we’ve had many conversations over the past 30 years. In fact, he’s quite the conversationalist, but most of the time, it’s about an in-depth analysis of a movie, book, video game…something in the zeitgeist he’s interested in and knowledgeable about. His insights and thoughts on those subjects can get up to encyclopedia-level word counts. I find those conversations fascinating, and I’m always left wondering how he knows so much about so many interesting things.

But this conversation was about his life.

And he initiated it! It wasn’t me who made a plan, sat him down and tried to convince him this was the next step for him. No, rather, he stopped by to fill me in on what’s happening and what he’s been thinking about for his future.

And we talked for an hour and a half about it.

Jodi Murphy the mighty.2-001

I’ve been noticing a huge change in his attitude the last year. He’s been living in an independent group home for about five years, but recently, he’s been interacting with his roommates more often. He and I have been giving presentations together about his life on the autism spectrum and how we’re working together to help others on the spectrum. He used to try to hide that he has autism, but now he owns that part of himself without shame. His confidence has soared, and I think he’s finally realizing his worth as a fellow human being. He seems happier and less anxious.

And now he’s thinking about his future.

He’s talking about relationships and wanting to make more lasting connections. He is taking greater ownership of his career path. That used to be a challenge, but now he believes he can succeed. He told me what he and his life skills counselor are working on to make him even more independent. It’s all the steps he wants to take — so enthusiasm has replaced his reluctance.

I’ve worked his entire life to make sure he had all the right interventions and support so this could happen. And in the darkest hours, I never, ever lost faith or gave up on him. My work is far from being over but today, on my birthday, I will celebrate my amazing, wonderful son…and his “gift” of conversation.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a moment you gave or received a gift that touched your life in a special way. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Meet the Musicians With Autism Who Are Tackling the Music Industry

The AutistiX are a six-piece rock band based in London. Their distinct style combines classic rock with experimental sounds, setting them apart from other bands. But the band is also unique because of the musicians themselves: the drummer, bass player and one of the guitarists all have autism.

“We [are] keen to be recognized for our musical talent and are proud to include musicians with autism,” the band’s website reads.

The AutistiX at ‘Autism’s got talent.’ Photo courtesy of Susan Zur-Szpiro

Since they formed in 2010, The AutistiX have played numerous concerts, festivals and tours, including an international tour, charity gigs for the National Autistic Society and performances at Beatles Day in Hastings, England, for the past four years, according to Susan Zur-Szpiro, the band’s manager and parent to one of the musicians. The band performs classic cover songs from artists like The Beatles, The Clash and The Rolling Stones as well as their own material, according to its website. Their original songs’ subject material includes everything from being judged out in public to daydreaming about girls.

The AutistiX last released new music in November 2014, but August 2015 is shaping up to be a big month for the group. Fixers, a charity organization based in the U.K. that shares stories about people working to make positive changes in the world, made a music video for “Just the Same,” one of the band’s new songs. The AutistiX were also featured on ITV, one of the leading news stations in the U.K., on August 7. Days later, The Guardian released a short documentary (video below) about the musicians getting ready to go on tour for the first time and preparing to perform on “Autism’s Got Talent.” The band’s first gig this fall will be at a film premiere of a short film called “I Used To Be Famous,” which was inspired by some of the musicians in The AutistiX, according to Zur-Szpiro.

In early September, the band will resume regular rehearsals and continue shattering stereotypes about what it means to have autism.

We don’t want people to feel sorry for us because we’re autistic,” one of the bandmates says in the documentary below. “We want people to come to our gigs, enjoy the music. You can also head-bang if you like.”

Take a look at more photos of the band below.

Photo from The Autistix Facebook page
Photo from The Autistix Facebook page
Photo from The Autistix Facebook page

Watch the entire mini documentary about the band below.

For more information about The AutistiX, visit their website, Facebook page and Twitter. To hear more of their music, check them out on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

How I Found the Best Way to Take Photographs of My Son With Autism

A photograph of our family taken a few years ago hangs on our living room wall. Our youngest son, Henry, sits on the floor in front of everyone while my husband, Chris, and I are both on our hands and knees. Then our twin son, Noah, rests his body on my husband’s while our other twin son, Isaac, is perched on top of Noah, wearing a million dollar smile.

Tyann Sheldon Rouw's family

Anyone looking at the picture can’t tell it was taken as Isaac sprinted around the kitchen and into the living room. The photographer snapped it just as Isaac leaped, landed and smiled. She was in our home taking pictures for two hours. (Can you imagine anyone with kids agreeing to a two-hour photo shoot?) She needed a family willing to be photographed because she was working on a special needs designation and needed the experience. I think she learned a lot. No, we’re not game for a wardrobe change. No, posing doesn’t generally work. She and her assistant did a nice job. More than 300 pictures were taken, but there were only a handful we considered purchasing. They’re gorgeous pictures — all black and white — and worth every penny. Even Noah and Henry’s stuffed dog made it into a few prints.

When Henry was a year old, a photographer (who is also a friend) came to our home to take pictures. He took several hundred as well, and one was outstanding (one is all we need, right?) and it now hangs on our wall downstairs. Chris is sitting on an exercise ball, I’m seated on a mattress holding baby Henry and the twins are jumping around and smiling. Against a white wall, it looks like it was shot in a studio; however, it was shot in Isaac’s bedroom. I like to say that most of our pictures are perfectly imperfect.

When we got pictures taken last year at Portrait Innovations, I reserved the first appointment of the day to avoid a long wait. Isaac ran in and out of the session as needed, and he was able to watch cars in the parking lot. The longer we were there, the more anxious he became. It wasn’t the best situation, but it wasn’t a nightmare, either. We had our pictures in hand as the place began to fill up and we were on our way out. They’re not the best pictures in the world, but it was the first time ever we visited a studio. The photos were inexpensive. Nobody cried, not even the photographer.

When we gathered with family for Christmas, we took pictures of the group — 17 in all. Considering there was a toddler and Isaac involved, it went well. He stood near Chris and his cousins behind a couch, so he couldn’t run too quickly. He was smiling. The toddler sat on her mom’s lap. The photo is fantastic.

Last month before family arrived for Henry’s birthday party, I attempted to take a picture of Isaac and me. We needed one for Christmas cards. Only one. He was game for a few self-portraits without the flash. I took them quickly. It would have been easier to nail Jell-O to a tree.

Tyann Sheldon Rouw and her son

After a few minutes, I took a break. Chris was trying to watch a football game, and Noah and Henry were on the couch. Isaac stood up and opened the front door. I learned a long time ago it’s easier to meet him halfway, on his terms. So he opened the door, and I snapped pictures.

This is how to work with my child who has autism. You do things on his terms, when he is ready to be photographed, when he’s in his element.

Tyann Sheldon Rouw and her son

This one I love most of all. It’s all joy. It is Isaac in his purest, happiest state, watching the door open and close. It’s a rhythm and view he has loved ever since I can remember.

Tyann Sheldon Rouw and her son

This is the one we used in our Christmas card this year — it’s the moment in time when everything looks effortless. All in a day’s work.

Tyann Sheldon Rouw and her son

Follow this journey on Turn Up the V.

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