A boy sitting on a couch with a coffee table in from of him with pictures on it

5 Tips for Families who have a relative with Special Needs 

May 24, 2024

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Family photos are an amazing way to capture this moment in time with your loved ones, whether it is right when your kids start to walk or right before they head off to college. But oftentimes, if your child has a disability, it can feel difficult and overwhelming to try to plan for family photos. 

As a portrait photographer who has experience with  this, I completely understand all of the thoughts and doubts running through your head. But your story deserves to be told, and your family deserves to be captured exactly how they are. 

So, if you are ready to take the step to plan a photoshoot, here are a few of my tips for families who have a relative with special needs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out 

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to reach out. This is honestly one of the biggest hurdles to get over when it comes to getting your photos taken. Whether someone in your family has a mental, physical, or any other type of disability, your family deserves to be photographed for you to look back on for years to come. 

So, I want to encourage you to fight against any voice in your head telling you that you won’t “fit into” the packages that portrait photographers have for family portrait sessions and, instead, reach out. 

There are plenty of ways that we can customize and create accommodations to make sure that you and your family are comfortable and have an amazing experience getting your photos taken. 

If you think that you may need more time for the session, perfect! We can create a longer session for you and your family. If you think a shorter session may be better, great! We can do a session in a shorter amount of time. 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to photo sessions is that there are ways we can easily make adjustments to accommodate you and your family’s needs. It is not too much or too out of the way to make space for whatever your family looks like. 

I can only add that as the niece of an Uncle who had Down Syndrome, I wish there were more photos of the relationships he shared with my mother, my grandparents and all of us! A photo of how he would hold on tightly to our hands or his smile that lit up the room whenever my grandmother whistled. 

The way he showed his excitement when my mother walked into any room he was in or how my grandfather helped my uncle to drink his beloved coffee with a spoon! For some reason he had to drink it that way!! 

To have a tangible photo that would have captured all of the nuances that our memories sometimes let go of or alter over the years would have been a tremendous gift to share with my nieces and husband. But when my Uncle was alive, having a photographer in the home was simply not something my grandparents felt comfortable doing, or felt they could do, unfortunately.

I have always thought that the relationship between my uncle and his mother, father and sister in particular, showed a depth of love and care that is truly unique and inspiring. It is at the top of the list of circumstances in my life that taught me to view the world and all people with love first. 

To celebrate what is possible as opposed to focusing on what isn’t! If more photos existed of the way my mother and grandparents cared for my uncle and how much he showed his love in return, I’m convinced that the world would be a better place. So please do reach out. I want to know and show your story! You do inspire!

Be Open with Your Photographer 

You also want to make sure that you are open with your photographer. If there are any special requests that you would like, talk to them about that beforehand. It’s Important, as well, to let them know if there is anything that they should avoid doing. 

If, for example, your child is sensitive to light or to touch, make sure your photographer knows that so that they can help make the session as smooth and as seamless as possible. 

You can also let them know if there is anything that you really want out of the session. If there are any specific photos or portraits that you want to try to get, let them know ahead of time so that they can try to set them up throughout the session! 

Let the Session Flow However it Does 

Just like any other family, things are not going to be perfect during your photoshoot. Odds are, there is going to be something that isn’t exactly how your child wants it to be or how you want it to be. 

All kids are going to avoid smiling at the right time, looking at the camera, or sitting exactly how you want them to sit. That is totally okay. These photos aren’t meant to look like they just came out of a magazine. 

These are meant to show you and your family exactly how they are. And that means not being perfect all of the time. Instead of trying to force things to be perfect, just let things flow. 

If they want to run around a little bit, let them do it. We can capture some amazing moments of you and your child playing together. If they really want to take a picture with their favorite stuffed animal, let them. That stuffed animal isn’t going to last forever, so it will be special to look back on in the future. 

The best family photos are the ones that are authentic and feel real to you and your family. Those may not be the ones that you think of when you think of the “perfect family photos,” but these photos will be perfect for you and your family. 

Start Preparing for the Session Early 

Make sure you start preparing for your session early. This means, well before your photoshoot date comes around, start prepping your family for the upcoming change and what is going to happen on the day. 

This can include so many different things depending on what is going to help your child the most. It could be letting them wear the outfit that they are going to wear during the photoshoot around the house a few times before the session. 

This will allow them to get comfortable with it, and it may make them feel better when the session date comes around. This could also mean taking practice photos with just your phone so that your kids get used to being in front of the camera. Small steps day by day.

If your child is shy around new people, you could also talk to your photographer and see if you can meet before the session to get comfortable with each other before you actually start taking photos. Maybe this means meeting together out somewhere or having your photographer come to your house so that your kids can feel comfortable with them. 

You also want to make sure that you make a list of everything that you need to bring on the day of the session. If you are going out somewhere for the session, it is a great idea to bring more things than you think you need. 

Whether that is snacks, toys, stuffed animals, or anything else that comforts your kids, having these on hand to help make the session feel a little less irregular in their day-to-day lives can help the entire session go much smoother. 

Pick a Location that You and Your Family are Comfortable In

Finally, pick a location that you and your family are comfortable in. This absolutely can be your own house if you think that is the place you are going to be most comfortable, but it doesn’t have to be. 

However, it is important that you pick a place that you and your family are familiar with, or choose a part of your routine that you’d love to capture, so that you are not adding a new place or new activities on top of a new experience. Having this extra level of comfort when it comes to the session will make everything feel much less stressful. 

If you do want to do something outside of your house, you and your photographer can work together to find a place  that is accessible for your family. Just be sure, again, to communicate with your photographer if there is anything special your family needs. This could be anything from wheelchair access to quiet areas if your kids have trouble with loud sounds. There are plenty of places that are going to be totally welcoming to you and your family for your session! We will find them!

Remember, there is definitely something special about capturing your family photos right in your own home. This is one of the best ways to show your family just as they are at this moment in time! 

Final Thoughts  for families who have a relative with special needs

Hopefully, these tips will help you and your family feel comfortable and confident when it comes to taking family photos. Whatever your family looks like, you are special, and your family story deserves to be told. 

And, if you are ready to find a photographer who is flexible and can create a session that is perfect for you, I’d love to chat. You can click here to get in touch and we can work to create a custom package to make sure that all of you and your family’s needs are met!

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