Family photography and autism, part one: Pictures of love

It is my personal belief that it is even more important for a family with autism in the mix to have family photography, even more so than an apparently typical family. Don't get me wrong, I do always feel that it is so valuable and meaningful for families to celebrate their milestones, their togetherness and their beautiful connections. I really do. But my reason for that statement is partly about the person/people on the spectrum, and partly about the experience of parenting with autism in the mix.

Today, I'm just going to talk about the value for the autistic person. Let's just assume in this article that we're talking about a child or youth. It applies to adults as well, and it actually applies to a lot of non-autistic, visually oriented people as well, but in this instance I will use the example of an autistic child. I am also thinking about my own children when I write, so there's my disclaimer ;)

Basically, with autism, a person's visual processing speed is often vastly superior to their auditory comprehension. Temple Grandin explains how she thinks in pictures. My middle child, Ash, for an example from my own family, had a visual processing speed at the 88th percentile of his age when he was tested at 5 years old. His auditory processing was at the 22nd percentile. That's a large disparity, yes, which is often part of the diagnostic screening in itself. But it's the real life application that is the thing.

If someone says something to Ash, it is processed far slower than a typical child of his age. Processing time is really important, and if a lot of information is spoken at once then some of that information will invariably fall through the cracks, because his auditory processing skills are not at the level that you might expect. However, if someone shows him something, it is processed far more quickly than a typical child. Visual patterns, systems, instructions, concepts - everything that goes in to his brain through visual means is easier to process, understand and respond to, or take on board.

Being told 'I love you' is beautiful, and true, and supportive. In the moment we say it, it is a meaningful, connective gesture. It is a genuinely lovely gesture, and one which we repeat, often.
My family, photographed by Angie Baxter
Being able to see 'I love you' visually, a gorgeous image of that bond you share, a photograph that becomes woven into the landscape of their everyday, that is beautiful, and true, and strong. That is a visual foundation of what home, and family, really mean to them. With no words needed, that 'I love you' moment reminds and anchors them each and every day, and that is powerful.

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