Monday, December 14, 2009

Autism is the mother of invention Monday-Family Christmas card photo

Most parents of children with Autism or special needs have had at least one instance where they have had to get creative to cater to their child's needs. Pat and I are blessed to be creative, do-it-yourselfers. We have had to build something ourselves or use something store bought in a way that it was not intended to be used in order to meet our son's needs, keep him safe, etc. When he was little we had to build a custom gate that was higher than anything that could be purchased in the store so he wouldn't wander around unattended at night if he got up while we were sleeping. We had to create a barrier for the middle of the back seat of our car to keep him from hurting Olivia when she was very little (we have a car with a 3rd row now for the rare time he is in a bad mood). We have created "curtain rods" from thick wooden dowels and used big hook screws to hold up our "curtain rods" so we would be able to have curtains that were not easily pulled down. The list goes on......

Every year we do our family portrait in front of our tree for our Christmas card. In our family there are very few opportunities for family traditions. We never know if Stephen will tolerate certain situations or be able to participate in the same traditions year after year without getting upset. Our family portrait in front of our tree has become one of the few traditions we have that Stephen has been able to be a part of which is why it is so special. And we look forward to it every year. It's one of the few times we get to do something that "normal" families do.

Now I know that getting that perfect photo with the any kids, special needs or not, is no easy feat. But maybe because we are able to get that perfect shot year after year, despite extra special circumstances that Stephen's Autism presents, makes us feel a huge sense of pride. Our "perfect" family portrait also represents how we have managed to thrive and be such a loving family in the face of all our challenges.

Here are some of our past family portraits-

We have different techniques for coaxing a smile out of Stephen for these photos. It's not that he doesn't smile spontaneously on his own. He smiles all the time. He just doesn't smile on cue. He is not capable of a fake smile. When Stephen smiles it is completely genuine. So I always feel a little weird trying to get him to smile for our family portrait. We have tickled him, put the camera right in front of the tv with a show that he likes on, sang silly songs and acted goofy, etc. Even though we are doing things to get him to smile, make no mistake, it is still a genuine smile. When he smiles it is because he is really happy or excited.

Well, this year we just couldn't make it happen. Either Olivia, Pat and I would be smiling and looking at the camera and Stephen would be looking very unhappy, had his eyes closed, etc. or Stephen would be looking right at the camera and we would all be out of focus. We took as many family portrait photos as he would tolerate in front of the tree and figured we could work with at least one of them. I went to to make the cards and just couldn't use a single photo and feel good about it. Then I saw that they had a layout with 3 photo frames. Pat suggested we have Olivia take a picture of him and I for the middle frame, we'd use a photo I had taken of Olivia in front of the tree and Pat and I would go up to Stephen's room and take a photo of him there. Sure enough, Stephen was much more comfortable in his room, in front of his computer and with a little foot tickling by Pat we got a great photo of him.

Although we are a little sad to say goodbye to our old tradition we now have a new one. This new way of composing our family portrait for our Christmas card is more in line with how we feel about real happiness in life. It's not about looking perfect. We don't believe in form over function. We are definitely concerned with cake and like frosting but know that too much will make you sick. Style will never be more important to us than substance.

I have a new sense of pride with this year's Christmas card. I think our photos look great this year not because we were able to get that "perfect" shot which is so coveted and sometimes unattainable even for families with "normal" kids or looking like the "perfect" family for a millisecond but because our challenges bring out our creativeness and not just ability but WILLINGNESS to do whatever it takes to have a happy and healthy family. We don't just look happy, we really are happy : )


The McNultys said...

I can relate! Laurie would NOT smile when prompted, so this year I used separate photos of the girls. Kind of a bummer in one sense, but I truly genuine smile on Lauries face as a result!!

StatMama said...

What beautiful photos, you have a lovely family! I just adore the red 'Santa dress' in the one photo; Reese had the same one last year and I looked all over trying to find the same one this year.

Anonymous said...

Beth, Heck enjoy the new pictures, you would go screaming in the night if you saw a few of ours!