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  • Writer's pictureBianca Jo

How To Have A Successful Family Portrait Session With A Special Needs Child

Updated: 1 day ago

I have written a few blogs on the reason why having family portraits is great for children's mental health but what if you have fears because you have a child that needs a little more attention or specific needs to make a session happen? What do you look for when hiring a photographer that you will feel confident they can create a successful session for everyone?



I was fresh out of college and found my first job as a school portrait photographer. It wasn't like what I learned in school as I had never looked through a camera and only taken one photo of each child before. But there were a few schools that had classes for special needs children. Some had wheelchairs and our setup was difficult to use for those children. I used to think there had to be another way to make them look and feel good.



Fast forward to Covid and I got a job as a Respite Care Giver for predominantly autistic children but also children who have other needs. Through this job, I have learned so much about how to interact with them and help them interact with us.


I hope this blog post can help shed some light on how to have a successful session and how to highlight everyone's personalities well.







Tips to help make your family portrait session with a special needs child a positive for everyone.


Some of these tips will work great for children in general but are vital for children with special needs.



1 Tell the photographer what needs the child has.


Does your child use a wheelchair? What are their mobility needs, like can they sit up or hold their head on their own? Do they have trouble hearing and need to read mouths? Do they have sensory needs, whether that's in favor of or disdain sensory? Questions like the ones stated will help the photographer know what locations will work better for the session, whether is it easily accessible for wheelchairs, or whether they hate sand. The answers can help the photographer communicate better with the child and talk directly to them instead of speaking from behind the camera.


Some questions can help with knowing how to pose the clients as a family and as smaller groups. If they have a hard time sitting or holding their head up, photographers will know what poses will work and still make the images look natural.



Family portraits



2 What words and phrases work to get their attention?


What are some words or phrases that help the child know what is expected of them? For example, if the kids are jumping up and down and clapping hands, telling them calm body and calm hands can help them calm down so we can photograph a sitting pose. Or put your hands in your pockets. Use if/then phrases so they know they have a task to do before they can do what they want or get time with their preferred item.


There can also be words or phrases that cause behaviors so letting your photographer know trigger words can help lessen the behaviors. This also includes tone of voice. Some children are very sensitive to tone of voice and knowing how to talk a certain way will help promote a happy environment which is the number one goal as well as having great portraits.





3 What are their interests?


Most children have a favorite show or activity. I am happy to include those in the session. It helps make the session unique and helps motivate them to participate as well as be mentally present and occupied. Bring their favorite toy, some kids go through seasons where they only play with one toy and move on later. Capturing them with the toy can be a great way to remember that season in their life when it's gone.


If they love swimming in the pool and you have a pool available, we can start with nice family portraits and end with the family in the pool. Family portraits do not always have to look a certain way and if doing things out of the box fits your family's style and needs, I am here to help.






4 What fears do they have?


I have had children who are terrified of dogs and will not walk by them or run the other way. So having a session next to a dog park won't be a good idea. Or loud noises like the vacuum cleaner or kids screaming. Tell the photographer these things to eliminate them being an issue.


5 Bring an extra set of clothes


This goes for all my sessions even adults - it is always a great idea to have a change of clothes in case someone gets dirty or wet.



What are your biggest concerns for your family? Let me know in the comments as I'd love to be able to make your session as easy for you as possible. You can also email me at hello@biancajophotography.com.




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