Autism and Smiling at the Camera – Dallas Frisco Family Photographer – Me Ra Koh
Gentle giant. Those are the words Mac’s mom used to describe her 12 yr old son with autism. Her youngest son, Gregor, is mischievous, charismatic, and loves to create worlds.
Mom had reservations about the photo shoot because autism and smiling at the camera is not as easy as people assume. The neurological skill of smiling at the camera has always been difficult. Since Mac was a little, his mom shared, he smiles big for the camera but always looks to the side.
She gave our Frisco portrait studio a chance because Mac’s best friend, Scarlett (who is on the spectrum), had come for her own photo shoot a couple months prior. She and her mom loved the experience and encouraged them to risk trying family portraits again.
All Mom Wanted
“To have a good, quality, natural pictures that actually reflects the Mac I see — I can’t emphasize enough how much it means to me to have that displayed above our fireplace for all of us to see every day,” wrote his mom after we finished their wall art install.
Hearing Mac loves Legos and his little brother loves to create worlds, this seemed like a great way to capture their bond as brothers. His mom said Mac is so detailed and will explain all the intricacies to Gregor. I love how Gregor was hanging on his big brother’s every word.
At one point, Mac put his arms around mom and gave her the biggest hug. It was the sweetest, most heart warming moment. He is a gentle giant.
Why Autism and Smiling at the Camera was Such a Big Deal
When Mac put Gregor on his lap for them to BOTH smile and look at the camera, it was unreal. Mac felt safe, comfortable and was having fun!
Now you know the backstory of why these portraits of looking at the camera are so meaningful to his parents.
We have no idea what families are going through.
I’m so thankful his parents took time to talk with me before the photo shoot, so we could set their family up for success. And we could give mom the portraits she’s wanted for years. You can just feel the joy bursting from mom once the wall art was installed!
Powerful Lesson for Photographers
When photographing kids with autism, I love to make the photo shoot a game. Something they can choose to engage with when they’re ready. This gives the kids power, choice and voice. As they start having fun, I snap away at their beautiful joy and wonder.
This next tip is key. If the kids are little, I don’t look through my camera’s view finder. Instead, I rely on my Live View display on the back of my Sony mirrorless camera. This way the child can see my face smiling, and we can keep eye contact as we play.
Here’s an example when Oprah and The Nate Berkus Show team flew me to NYC to capture a family whose youngest son had autism. Viewers don’t realize it until the next episode, but I’m moving fast to support Tommy, their youngest.
Creating Space for Parents to Share
I’m so thankful Mac’s mom was open to me sharing their story. I’ve been a family portrait photographer for almost twenty years. The temptation, especially when you’re first starting and still learning your camera, is to jump into a photo shoot and not get to know the family beforehand.
As you progress in your work, the temptation is to think that you need to capture something incredibly creative. Smiling at the camera may not seem like enough. But what if that’s exactly what they’ve always wanted?
I can’t tell you how many painful stories I’ve heard from women like Mac’s mom who risked doing family portraits but left feeling like the photographer amplified their pain. Their child with autism struggled to smile at the camera and the photographer unknowingly made things worse.
If you’re a family portrait photographer, I want to challenge you. Before the photo shoot day arrives, make time to schedule a call with parents–all your parents. Ask them what is most meaningful to them in this season of life. Give them a chance to share something like this with you.
You have no idea how the simplest thing may mean everything.
What Mac Has to Say
When mom asked Mac about how he liked the photo shoot, Mac smiled. “I got to build a Lego set, what could be better?” And he gave a BIG YES to doing it again.
My heart is full. Thank you Mac.
Here’s one of my favorite BTS moments laughing and creating with Mac. My priority was to have fun together. xo
Over the last twenty years, I’ve had the honor of photographing kids with autism. To earn their trust and see their joy is one of the greatest honors.
What His Parents Said After the Reveal and Design Session
Celebrating 15 Years of Marriage!
As you heard in the video, this photo shoot was also about celebrating 15 years of marriage between these two beautiful parents. They deserve their own blog post!
Resources for Families
If you have a child with autism, these are two resources that I’ve heard are so helpful. It’s important to know that we’re not alone.
Do You have a Child with Autism who Struggles Smiling at the Camera?
Do you have a child with autism who struggles smiling at the camera? Has family portraits always been something you desired but were unsure of? We’d love to serve your family through this meaningful photographic experience.
Click this link to schedule a Discovery Call with our wonderful team. Through a series of thoughtful questions, together we’ll discover your child’s strengths and the super power they give the world. All this will shape a safe and unforgettable photo shoot.
I want you to know that at Me Ra Koh Portraits in Frisco, TX, we consider it an honor to work with all children and meet them exactly where they are. Your experience will be unlike any other. We’re so excited to hear about your amazing child!
Family is a Work of Art
See the Inspiration Behind More Photo Shoots, CLICK HERE.