How the importance of understanding Autism has a spectacular impact
700,000 are on the autism spectrum in the UK, that is more than 1 in 100. If you include their families, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people Is that statistic higher or lower than you imagined? This also includes people living with Asperger Syndrome which is a form of Autism. 
Some people may not be aware of the link between Autism and Asperger Syndrome. According to the National Autistic Society the main difference between Autism and Asperger Syndrome is that children with Asperger Syndrome do not have a significant delay in their language development. 
Those diagnosed with Autism can display angry and emotional episodes which can appear very aggressive and threatening to those around them. These episodes, known as triggers, can be caused by something which could seem a very small and insignificant to some people. For someone with living with Autism a small change could cause them distress. 
My personal experience of working with Autism 
I have worked with lots of children and young people with Autism through my photography business and whilst working in a special needs school. I have learnt along the way that combining the knowledge and skills of the families, schools and therapists can make an enormous change to a person and family living with Autism's life. 
Just to provide you with an example, I can remember a particular young man from a school that we had the pleasure of meeting whilst taking the school photographs. This was our second year working with the school and this young lad, diagnosed with Autism, had just joined the school. Due to a move of home and change of school setting, you may well imagine that this lad struggled enormously. 
The distress of the change led to him needing to be taken out of class as he displayed high levels of aggression and physically attacked staff members and other pupils. Special needs schools are very well equipped to have quiet areas for Autistic children and make excellent provision to cater to their needs to ensure they that are able to calm down. 
When we first met this young lad, he had been taken into a classroom by himself. The staff first advised us that we could go into the classroom with him whilst alone but they advised to tread with caution. I will always listen to a member of staff or family when it comes to working with any special needs child. It is particularly important with an Autistic person, they know their good and bad triggers and I of course want to use their knowledge to get to know that person and make them feel comfortable in my presence and show them that I do not pose any threat. 
The lad was sat alone and was wondering the classroom and did seem a little lost and unsettled. He was clearly not relaxed but when the teacher put on his favourite music he sat down in a chair and began happily moving to the beat. It was then I knew he felt relaxed enough to have his photograph taken. Not with me poking a camera straight in his face, but at a distance he is comfortable with. It turned into an amazing session and I even started singing and dancing along. Unfortunately, after a short while, he did begin to display aggressive behaviour again and we had to leave the classroom. 
Throughout the entire time, staff at the school were amazing with him, really trying to keep him calm and doing everything they could to make him feel at ease. 
In our third year at the school, the transformation of this lad was quite outstanding. His whole persona and being had changed enormously. He is part of all of his classes and is able to engage and take part in lessons with his fellow classmates. The whole time we were at school, every time I saw him he had a massive grin on his face continuously and just seems a completely different child. This is all down to the hard work and efforts of the people surrounding him. His family, school and therapists are an absolute credit to the young man he is now. 
Learning from Autistic families experiences 
Autistic people can be extremely talented and intelligent. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of these remarkable children and young people. Many of them have amazed me in different ways from works of art to their ability to recite and retain information it is absolutely outstanding. 
One child I met had an amazing photographic memory. In the office, we had an old fashioned slide open window. There was a sign in and out sheet for the 86 members of staff. The list was in alphabetic order to ensure that the staff could easily find their names. On this particular day, I overheard this child saying names of members of staff which I first thought was very random. The penny didn’t drop initially and then the next time I heard him it dawned on me. He was reading the staff sheet in the correct order from memory! 
When I spoke with his mum one day, she laughed and said that he has an amazing memory. She said when they walked their dog on various different walks he could recall the numbers on the lamp posts. 
What blew my mind the most was this. He would ask for DVDs (back in the day when we all watched DVDs!) by their barcode number. His mum said that when he first started talking to her in numbers, she could not understand it. This lead to so many aggressive and angry episodes which included physical outbursts towards his mother and siblings. 
For a long time nobody could work out what this child was trying to communicate. What made it difficult was that the boy was non-verbal which obviously made the situation very difficult. It wasn’t until one day he held a DVD up to his sister and started saying numbers they made the association. All of their DVD collection is now in numerical order by barcode as well as being put on a separate sheet for the family to easily access. Absolute brilliance. 
Living with Autism 
The challenges families face with autistic children and young people can be incredibly difficult. When I speak to those families, I have complete admiration for their time and devotion to their loved one. The slightest change in routine or bad trigger can have a major impact. Watching families adapt and deal with this is phenomenal, they’re extraordinary people. 
I have a child with special needs myself and he has very complex needs but his routine is set in stone. The only time his needs change is if he is unwell, but any child with or without special needs, needs change when they are unwell. With an autistic person this need could change in a second just to one little piece of the puzzle not fitting how it should have that day and the whole dynamics of family life has to change which I am sure can prove very challenging. 
When you look back to the statistic I said at the start of 2.8 million people being affected that is quite a large number of people having to adapt and make changes to life. 
Autism Friendly Photography Sessions 
Having such an insight of working with Autism and learning from family experiences, I am proud that our photography sessions are Autism friendly. 
The way I see it, every person in the world is different. What is right for one person may not work for another. This is the approach I take with all of my photography sessions but I think it’s a very important way to think when dealing with Autistic and special needs children. 
I want to know what makes them happy, what makes them smile. I want to spend extra time getting to know a person or family because what is most important to me is to make the person feel comfortable. Photographs are important memories to capture a moment that will be special and treasured forever. This is why it is so important to get it right. 
Our Autism friendly sessions are available for schools and private photography sessions and we have been running these successfully for a number of years now. If you know any families with an Autistic person who would benefit from our autism friendly sessions, then please put them in touch with me. 
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