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How Photography Helps Autistic Children

Updated on July 26, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

Action figure(used to be mine now it's his!)

All photographs, except where noted, were taken at my home by my autistic grandchild
All photographs, except where noted, were taken at my home by my autistic grandchild | Source

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

I will admit that until one of my grandsons was diagnosed wit autism I did not really understand what autism was nor cared to learn much about it.

Through the years I have become accustomed to his behavior and what drives him , what he likes , what he dislikes and what appeals to him.

I recently gave him a Canon Rebel DSLR camera and simply told him and his mom to just let him do with it whatever he wanted to.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the results. His photography is unique to say the least. His view of the world and everything that surrounds him is truly unique to him and I suspect that this is pretty much the same for many autistic children.

A child with autism will capture images that shows us their insight into how they view things and how they think.

Without any real guidance other than showing him the camera functions, he takes pictures that at first glance appear to be odd but upon a closer inspection you begin to see what the child intended to show when he took the picture in the first place.

Another unexpected result is that he is now more confident and will casually ask people, even strangers, if he can take their picture. Up to date no one has said no.

He still does not like big crowds or very busy places but going to the mall has now become a routine with him usually being the one initiating the request to go!

His interest in photography has also added the extra benefit of bringing him and his mother closer together.

He never fails to tells me about his latests photo adventure, show me his pictures and continually ask if I like them. Whether or not his pictures are technically flawless, they are very intriguing and of course they are always good and I always like them, God forbid if I say no.

Fairy garden figurines

Most of the images taken by my grandson are abstract in nature, whether this is on purpose or not, they are really nice to look at as well as quite interesting.

Many of his images are also quite unusual. Seldom does he take a picture of a person for example, and it shows the entire body. Most are body parts with especial concentration or emphasis on the head and eyes. The same goes with animals whenever he takes their pictures.

For toys most times they completely show the entire subject but quiet a few are also abstract and very detailed. It helps that he now has a macro lens which it seems has opened his photo horizons even more.

My two German Shepherds

Children with autism can benefit by involving themselves into photography first because it can open and widen their horizons. They begin to think outside of their world and see a whole new set of surroundings full of subjects and possibilities.

Second, their desire to take pictures may overtake some of their anxieties and give them the courage to come out of their shell.

Third,they can start to develop a love for art in general which in turn may lead them to pursue other artistic endeavours.

Fourth, they get to share their results with others which in turn leads them to open up and become more expressive.

By the way, by overcoming their anxiety to meeting new people tends to make them be more sociable and since this takes place on their own terms and timeline, they gradually learn that most people are nice,will open up to their photography and will offer to help plus meeting and talking to others is nothing to be afraid of.

I remember that when I first started doing street photography as part of a college class, I was terrified of getting people to notice me and worst, to tell me off because I was taking their pictures.

However the more I did it the more I noticed that people would just come up to me and offer to let me take their pictures once I explained why I was doing so in the first place.

Letting kids talk to people is the first step to allow them to become accustomed to being more sociable and less introverted and although photography may not work for every child with autism, if it works for your child then it was something worth trying.

If you have pets and the child enjoys being around them then this is the perfect way for them to enjoy their pets even more. Since the pets will not talk back and kids are not generally afraid of them, it is a good starting point to letting them begin their photo adventures. This can also be a way of teaching patience while they get the pet to stand still and "pose".

Words of warning, you are likely to end up looking at hundreds of photos of the family pet, but in the end it's really worth it.

Both my daughter and I see photography as a relationship builder and a way of accepting each other without any barriers or pre-conceptions.

What has been more surprising is that each of my four grandkids is totally different and each has his own (they are all boys) interest but they have now begun to enjoy looking at the pictures taken by their brother and currently two more want a camera for Christmas and yes I started saving money already!

I have posted a few photographs taken by him in the last few weeks and like I said, his talent is definitely improving although he still hasn't gotten the focusing mechanism quite right yet.

So far my favorite is the golden shrimp plant bloom but the action figure came in a close second. That one happens to be his all time favorite so much that I will give it to him as a gift.

By the way, he was the one who noticed the tiny ant on the golden shrimp plant bloom. I completely missed it.

Pentas & succulent

Do you think teaching photography to autistic kids helps?

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Golden shrimp plant bloom & monarch butterfly

© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez


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