Tips for Photographing Children with Sensory Issues

I grew up with a sister who had severe epilepsy. Knowing what a child goes through with any type of health issues makes me want to offer the most stress-free experience with my clients who may have children-no matter what the it is. I recently have photographed several adoptions and the children needed a little extra care because they were needing to still attach to their parents. I don’t want you to put off having your family photos taken for fear of a stressful time with your family or having something trigger a reaction for your child. Hopefully these suggestions (which came from mother’s who have experienced this) will help us as photographers, and you as parents to work well together to capture your sweet family and your memories. 

  1. Communicate with your photographer. When booking your session, let your photographer know of anything to be aware of or even things that may disrupt your child. Autism and Epilepsy are just two of the many diseases that you can’t know by any physical way most times.
  2. Be aware -look for signs from children and parents. If their child is being super adamant about something, it may not be bad behavior at all. Wait quietly and let the parents sort it out without pushing. I recently photographed a family that forgot the toddler’s shoes back at the house. (we had to drive to the location) I sensed it was very important that the little girl had her shoes so I told them to take all the time they needed to run get the shoes while I took the focus off of the situation by starting to photograph the grandparents awhile.
  3. Be prepared -bring along a few toys and a chair. Some children who are at walking age may have low tone and need a little extra help. Sometimes I use the parents hands in the photos to comfort the child and also lend support.
  4. Speak softly -so many times when it’s a child’s turn to get their portraits taken the whole family is looking at them and saying a million things at once. Loud toys and repeating their name can be overstimulating…work quietly and wait for the moment. Many times I will take the child away from the group and sit with them for their portraits, talking softly.
  5. Allow their favorite toy in photos for comfort. Almost every child has a favorite “something.” Even if it’s not photogenic invite their toys in a few photos. It makes them feel so special and allows for fun conversations. This is a great time for close-up portraits where you crop out the toy anyway.
  6. Take photos in their comfortable environment or home. If a new environment stresses a child, don’t try to push for something new. You can find beautiful spots anywhere.
  7. Listen to language the parents use. On a recent session I kept hearing the parents use “happy!” when they were trying to make their children smile. So I started using it too and got the sweetest reactions out of the children.
  8. Be slow and don’t rush …also don’t take too long. Pay attention to body language and try to finish before there are tears and extra stress.
  9. Enter into their world. If a child appears to not be paying attention, I try to ask them what they are thinking. You may get a funny answer but I take it very seriously. Engage with them but if they are wanting to talk, give then space. Some of my favorite images are when children are contemplative and not smiling at all.
  10. Get on their level. Adults can be scary. Crouch down or sit “crisscross applesauce” with them. This feel less intimidating and they feel free to talk with you.


As more friends and clients have had children with needs that take special care, I just have to say Thank You. It takes so much time, energy and sacrifice from the families to live life and love well. And to all their friends who support and to teachers and therapists…you truly are a blessing!

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