Family photographs are important to most families in keeping special memories and recording milestones of their children. However, a family photography session can have its challenges even for children with typical development. It may be difficult to successfully meet the demands of a photography session from having to deal with the multiple verbal instructions from parents and the photographer, fulfill the different poses and possibly costume change as well as tolerate the length of the photo shoot!
This could be some of the reasons to deter families with children with special needs like autism from having their own family photo session. However, for us at EAP, we have had countless successful photography sessions taken over the last 10 years! From portraits, to group photos, there are a number of strategies that will really help make this a meaningful experience.
SET YOUR CHILD UP TO BE SUCCESSFUL
It would be highly advantageous to consider being in your child’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Also identify potential challenges.
- Plan the photo shoot around details that will be most successful for your child.
- Which location would your child be most successful in. Remember to try to reduce visual distractions in this location.
- Which timing would work best for your child? In the morning or after a nap or after a snack?
- Motivation: it is crucial for your child to be rewarded for every effort they make throughout the process. It may also be beneficial to assign a specific reward to differentially be given to your child when they do demonstrate success. We often use bubbles behind the photographer to catch our child’s attention and focus.
- Start with the group photographs first (a tip from Stories.my) and then take the individual photographs.
- Balance demands: do not give any unnecessary demands in the practice such as having your child to change to different clothes or using a novel prop. We need to think success. This can be achieved by minimizing demands to only include meeting the goal of the photo session. Reducing transitions would be beneficial too. Keep it simple, straightforward and successful. However if your child is able to tolerate these additional expectations, do go ahead!
- Communicate expectations clearly.
- What is happening and the flow of the event.
- Utilise a Social Story and Visual Schedule to help teach your child this.
- Additionally you could use a video model and role play how to take photographs.
- Prepare the following materials if necessary.
- Social story: include information like what will happen, when and where will it take place, how will the event flow look like, who will be there (familiar and unfamiliar faces).
- Visual schedule: clear pictures on the flow of the event (i.e.: sit on couch, say “cheese”, after getting 3 tokens it’ll be reward time).
- Token system: depending on the positive behaviour support plan designed for your child, this will help give them predictability for reward time, be it something tangible like a toy or candy, a break time to play with the iPad, or just “mummy” time.
- Activities: it will be beneficial for your child to engage in doing some familiar activities in which he is successful (i.e. puzzles, a sketchbook for drawing, colouring, iPad game). This will come in handy especially when there is a sudden change in the flow and it requires the child to be redirected to a familiar activity before going through the change or even when they are expected to wait for something.
PRIOR TO THE SHOOT, TEACH YOUR CHILD THE SKILLS REQUIRED
- Responding to instructions such as “Cheese!”. Pair this instruction with reinforcement and social praise.
- Desensitisation (if necessary): Many children with autism have tolerance difficulties. These may differ from one child to another, ranging from flashy lights, environmental factors in the location, crowd, unfamiliar faces, etc. Once this is identified, a proper desensitization plan will need to be planned out to address it. Break down the skill and aim to achieve it one at a time.
- Practice: the actual practice of the full routine will need to be conducted to help prepare your child for a successful photograph session. This, too, should be broken down into small achievable goals so as not to overwhelm your child in the process. Begin by doing the practice in 1:1 settings, then gradually and systematically move to a slightly bigger room and and incorporate more people. This gradual transition should only be considered once success is observed across a few attempts.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
- Have a Behaviour Plan and brief the whole team on this plan. At EAP, our Behaviour Plan includes Teaching Strategies, Preventative Strategies and Reactive Strategies. The above points outline all the teaching and preventative strategies.
- As for Reactive Strategies, have a space where your child can go to in order to calm down, as well as successful activities to be redirected to.
- Be prepared for the photoshoot to take longer than expected and be willing to let your child calm down before continuing.
- If it reaches a point where the photoshoot needs to be rescheduled, be prepared to do so, however do not give up. Reflect on the day and the expectations and what changes can be made to make this process more successful.
Following our blog post, we had the wonderful opportunity to partner with a photography and videography company, Stories.my, to arrange for a family portrait session for one of our kiddos and his family. Do check out the following video on what happened before and during the photoshoot. Enjoy!
The above ideas are some of the basic guidelines to help assist your family in preparing your child for a successful photograph session. As each child with autism is different, these suggestions will need to be individualized to further meet the different requirements of each child.
We wish you the very best in taking a successful family photoshoot! Please do not hesitate to contact us at 20940421 or at firstname.lastname@example.org should you need anymore assistance.