“What are you doing, mom?”
My 9-year-old daughter stands behind me as I sit down to write this.
“Writing about Milo, autism and photography,” I answer her. She sits quietly for a bit, then asks, “So everyone can understand a little more?”
Her words instantly put a smile on my face. What a perfect answer as to why I continue taking images of my son’s autism journey.
The first 6 months of Milo’s life were average. He was meeting all his milestones and was extremely social. Around 9 to 12 months, everything changed.
He quit responding to his name, wouldn’t wave bye-bye anymore, and always seemed to be off in some world we weren’t a part of. I think a part of me knew it was autism from the beginning, but it wasn’t until he was 18 months old that I was positive.
The official diagnosis came just a month shy of his 3rd birthday.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a social and communication disorder. A diagnosis can range from mild to severe, and each case is as unique as the person it affects. Every family that faces autism has their own set of challenges, and at first, they were the only thing I could focus on.
I was stuck on how hard daily life would be for my baby boy and our family. but these days, we have a different outlook on life. We celebrate every achievement and milestone, big or small. I am a better person because of my autistic son. He has taught me love, patience, beauty and understanding on a level I never knew was possible.
I have been photographing Milo since the day he was born. He is 6 years old now. He has always been a beautiful child to photograph — so happy, so curious, and never paying much attention to my camera. A dream subject for me, really. Nothing with him is ever planned or staged; he’s always milo.
Since his diagnosis, I’ve been capturing some of his quirky behaviors: the hours and hours he bounces on his trampoline; his fascination with water and how it completely calms him; his obsession with wind-up toys and marble runs; his attraction to a heating vent; the way he examines things extremely close up; his wonky sleep schedule; the amount of time he spends staring out of windows; how he’s always fiercely smelling his food before eating it; all the spinning, humming, swinging, scripting, tapping, ear plugging … The list goes on and on.
I’m constantly asking myself, “Why does he do these things?”
I will probably never know for sure. But I do know these things feel right to him; they help him get through the day and make him happy. It is my fervent hope that one day he will be able to share with me what life is like for him.
Taking these images of my son has been a therapeutic and empowering experience. They give him the voice that autism denies him. They give everyone a little glimpse into a different world, and in a way, lets us be a part of it.
Through these images, we all can understand a little bit more.
1. Keep it simple.
Following multi-step directions can be incredibly confusing for someone with autism.
2. Focus on candid shots.
Many individuals with ASD have trouble making eye contact. Capture the child just as he is. If you go for eye contact, try shooting from the hip.
3. Be ready.
When photographing children on the autism spectrum, be ready to shoot! My little guy is always on the move and his emotions are full of highs and lows. I never know how much time I will be allowed.
4. Ask questions.
Before the session, get to know the child. Ask about his likes and dislikes. See if there are any sensory issues you should be aware of. For example, my son does not like to have his hair touched; this innocent gesture is something that could easily happen in a photo session and could turn things ugly fast.
5. Don’t talk as if they aren’t there.
Autism is a social disorder and many (my son included) have trouble communicating. Even though they may not respond, they are very much aware of what is going on around them (my son has proved this time and time again), so try not to speak as though they are not there.
6. Be prepared for some quirkiness.
They truly do see, feel, smell, hear and taste the world from a different perspective. Respect their point of view.
7. Pick a comfortable location.
Quiet, calm, low light comes to mind. Never pick a noisy or crowded location. A home lifestyle session would be a comfortable setting.
This article first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Click Magazine. Order your print or digital copy from the Click & Company Store. Or better yet, get a 1-year subscription so you never miss an issue!