Autism and Weddings: How to Understand It and Make It Work

***Today's post is the final installment of a week long series here at Kiss My Tulle to help y'all plan your wedding and accommodate any special needs that your wedding party or guests might have. Be sure to check out yesterday's post from Katie Farrin of Lovebird Productions on planning your wedding while working with the special medical needs of your guests, this post about wheelchairs and weddings, my tips on planning a wedding if you have Social Anxiety Disorder, and the post when we talked about having or hosting a Deaf wedding. Today's post is from Brynn Davello of Davello Photography who is up close and personal with the Autism Spectrum every day.***

My son and I are in another doctor's waiting room. It's the third one this week. He's occupied for the moment watching Nick Jr. on the TV, and I'm wondering just how much of my hair is not gray. It has been a rougher week than usual for my family and our "special needs" first grader. Our son has Asperger's Syndrome, a disorder on the Autism Spectrum, which makes it hard for him to interact with people, and nearly impossible for us to teach him social skills that most of us learned unconsciously. The past 2 years have been full of doctors’ appointments, trips to the therapist, new supplements, new diets and MANY meetings with teachers and principals for his behavior. I never know what kind of day we're going to have. It could be a fairly normal day with a well behaved, slightly quirky boy. Or it could be a meltdown-over-earwax kind of day. Yeah, we have those.

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Image Courtesy of: Davello Photography

In our down time we take a lot of pictures of our boys. For the two older boys we can ask them to pose or smile for us, but the youngest (the Aspie) we usually like to photograph when he's not paying attention to us. He doesn't "get" facial expressions and will try to make crazy faces at the camera. I didn't realize until last year how our home life would affect our ability to photograph special needs individuals. We had two completely different situations with two wedding clients. 

Last summer I blogged about our journey with our youngest. I got an email the next day from one of our fall brides who told me that one of her flower girls sounded just like our son. We talked a little more about the girl’s age, personality, and triggers. On the day of the wedding when the flower girls arrived Mike and I were already prepped and prepared. We made sure before we started taking photos that she was comfortable with us. I took a few minutes to talk to her and her mom. Then when we did take photos we gave really clear, specific instructions to her. I even gave her special tasks I knew she could handle. Keeping her stress level low was important not just for photos, but for getting her through the day meltdown free (which kept the bride's stress level low). In this case the bride had lived with the little girl and knew a lot about her, and passed that information on to us. Knowing these details ahead of time was crucial.

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Image Courtesy of: Davello Photography

The following month at another wedding we learned that many of the groom's family were hearing impaired… during the ceremony. We had an interesting time with family photographs as I didn't think to ask the interpreter to come with us. If we had known ahead of time we would have had a strategy for communicating with the wedding guests, whether that was utilizing the interpreter when we could, or by brushing up on our sign language.

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Image Courtesy of: Davello Photography

We are by no means experts in photographing those with special needs, but some of the things we've learned may be able to help you choose your photographer, or at least give you some questions to ask them to get the ball rolling. Qualities I would look for would be: 

  • Patience above all
  • Lots of experience in the type of event you are having (if it's for a wedding… Hire an experienced wedding photographer. You don't want to have your photographer trying to figure out how to handle a difficult situation on top of the stress of learning how to photograph a wedding.)
  • Willingness to take some time to learn about the special need and to strategize ahead of time. 

Questions I would ask on the phone or in person to gauge their comfort level:

  • Have they ever had a client with (insert special needs category here)?
  • How would they handle (insert worst case scenario here)?

A list of things I would give to the photographer to prepare them:

  • Short bio/history of the person and the specific needs of that person.
  • A picture of the person, so the photographer knows who they are when they arrive.
  • Wedding day introduction for the photographer and the person and their caretaker for the day. 

At the end of the day there is always something about your special needs person that you wouldn't trade for the world, and anyone with a caring heart will recognize that special something in them. As photographers we see the best in people no matter their challenges and bringing out those moments of beauty make our job a joy. 

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Image Courtesy of: Davello Photography

Oh Brynn – this one made me cry (mostly because it is so close – two of my flower girls have Autism and our vendors where SO amazing while working with them). Are any of you planning a wedding and accomodating any special needs? What advice do you have for anyone trying to do it? As always, let Tulle Nation know about it in the comments.