Collaborative photography with my autistic five-year-old

Guest post by Alexis Yael
All photos by Remy!

Lately, the line in my photography and Remy’s is blurring just a teeny tiny bit. (No, I am still not letting him shoot with my DSLR. It just weighs too much and would be too expensive to replace if he dropped it.) Remy has moved on from the Canon point-and-shoot I was letting him use when there were fresh batteries to be found. He has also discovered a love of the iPod camera, just as I have.

Let’s clarify: he discovered that I was taking pictures of him on my iPod, which he calls “Chica” after this app, which was the first I downloaded for him, many years ago. We’re now technically on “Chica 2” but I’m not a stickler for formality.

Remy, being Remy, loves all things electronic and really loves “gramras” (cameras — Remy has a pretty serious speech delay and is on the autism spectrum). Well, considering that his mom is a burgeoning photog, we’ll just chalk that up to “like mother, like son!”

I usually hold on to the iPod as long as possible and let him press the on-screen button (making sure we get pictures of both of us). And I take some, too, because photography is fun. We giggle and make faces, but we also take serious photos, too. Remy will usually decide if he wants to go off and shoot more interesting subjects, so I let him do that — as a photographer, I grok that creative urge.

Yes, he’s shooting Elmo and Thomas the Tank Engines and I’m shooting leaves and cracks in painted walls. But isn’t it really the same, deep down — this urge to document the world?

One downside to letting your kid take charge of your camera is that there is a very real possibility of breakage. Remy has been playing with my old iPod touch for years without mishap, though, so I’m pretty confident he and I have about the same chance of dropping it. If you are still worried, you can buy a kid-specific camera. None of them review well enough for me to recommend, but they’re designed to be more secure for children to hold. If the fear of breakage is keeping you from letting your child explore with your camera, that could be a good stepping stone.

The other downside is that your child will likely shoot MANY photos and you may or may not be able to delete any of them, depending on your sentimentality at the moment and how able your kid is to communicate which photos s/he doesn’t like. Remy is more of a “in the moment” photographer, so I just delete the ones that are all black or all white. If he takes multiple shots of something (clickclickclickclick, which he does), then I’ll edit them.

It’s all worth it for gems like these.

Comments on Collaborative photography with my autistic five-year-old

  1. Being a photographer myself, I can relate to all your joys. My 2.5 year old foster daughter loves taking photos especially of her 16 y.o. sister. We all have a love fest going on. The last photos is especially awesome.

  2. I was enjoying reading the story along with each picture, but dammit you got me on that last one. Now I’m trying to swallow that lump in my throat and not cry!!

    My 4 yr old son is high functioning autism but loves capturing everything in a picture regardless of what it is.

  3. Great essay and great pictures. By the way, I would love to hear more from you moms raising children with autism. I am very curious about the experience of parenting special needs children — wondering if we could be in this situation some day — and I just have so many questions. It is such an unknown to me, and I would really welcome more essays like this fine essay. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks everyone!

    Appalachia, I’m definitely going to be submitting more articles about special needs parenting, but I also have some recommendations, if you’d like to learn more! One of my other favorite parenting blogs is called Hopeful Parents. It is all special needs parenting, all the time.

    Another great (Autism specific) site is called A Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism. That site also includes the perspectives of many adults on the spectrum, as well as the parenting perspective.

  5. wow…my baby brother in law(who im helping raise) is autistic and if he even hears the slight click of a camera he goes beserk with happiness! he is now 6 and although he cant really interact with others and has a terrible temper, just show him a cell phone camera or my point n shoot and youll get some of the most amazing photos ever….he’s taken pics of life/nature, of his parents, one of me and my love cuddleing…autistic kids are simply amazing

  6. My son and I discovered the wonders of cameras almost on accident. He has apraxia, and all that goes along with it, speech delay, fine motor skill issues, and sensory issues. We went with his preschool class to a farm, and I knew it would be a disaster. I did my best to prepare him- there would be grass, dirt, etc. If he got overwhelmed we walked around and found a bench away from the crowd to get centered again. His teacher even told us that if we needed to leave early, it would be okay.
    He tried so hard to join in with his friends, but sitting on hay bales and touching animals is just not going to happen. Finally in a last ditch effort to save the day, I handed him my phone and a miracle occured. He interacted with his friends, followed them into the barn and took pictures of everything. All of a sudden his sensory overload went away, all because he could look at everything in one small screen. A year later we are still using this method when things get overwhelming. I have pictures of Ikea, parks, church, and friend’s yards in my phone and a much calmer five year old.

    • Amie, that’s so awesome. Actually, the photo of the fire above was taken by Remy during a party; I gave him the iPod and he was able to stay focused on that for awhile instead of being overwhelmed.

      I imagine he’ll have the iPod for a lot of the wedding activities we’re going to this weekend (we’re out of town for a family wedding).

  7. Love this! I’m a photographer & my son is on the spectrum too….but I’ve never given him a camera! You’ve opened my eyes and I MUST rectify this quickly!!
    Love Remy’s photos, they are beautiful!

    • Yay! That’s exactly what I was hoping to inspire (actually, for all kids, not just those on the Spectrum, tho I think we Special Needs parents may get more out of the visual communication than moms who have kids who can easily verbal communicate do. Maybe.)

  8. Lovely post! Have you thought about a ‘rugged’ point and shoot? I have an Olympus Mju something-or-other (similar ones on the market from other brands) which is shock and waterproof (mine’s survived a good few years of being owned by a clumsy student with a passion for hillwalking, rock climbing and taking photos from the inside of a pint glass) not to mention very easy to use – I have some pretty decent pictures from if you don’t count the ones where my finger was over the lens! Designed to be used in wet/cold numb hands situations as well – possibly not as manouverable as a child specific camera, but definately an improvement. Hope this is useful information xxx

    • I’d actually like a rugged camera for *me* (to be able to start doing underwater photography) but we don’t really need to buy new electronics right now. When the P&S dies, it will probably get replaced with a rugged model, though. (Or maybe by then I’ll have an underwater housing for my DSLR.)

      Remy’s great with the iPod / P&S (plus he manages to get most people to lend him their camera phones — he was happily taking photos on his grandmas Android today while a bunch of adults stood around impressed by his skills 😀

  9. I’m a firm believer in giving a child a camera… sometimes the things they take pictures of are amazing. After a few lessons on how to hold the camera with two hands and which button is the shutter, I’ve let my DSLR run away in the hands of kids as young as 3, and I love the things they come back with, along with the joy on their faces.

  10. I had to send this article on to my husband, he is in the Aspergers spectrum and he started taking pictures as a young child and he is still an avid photographer. The “office” in our house is really to keep all of his photography equipment and computers in one space so they don’t end up all over our house.
    You and your son will have a great time taking pics together and look at it this way, at least everything is digital now and you don’t have store thousands of printed pictures and pay to have them all developed. Unless of course he becomes fascinated with old film cameras at some point, I can’t even tell you how many of those my husband has and he still uses them.

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