Dear School Photographer

Today is one of those perennial childhood milestones — School Picture Day.

Along with a check for $24 and a form selecting Package D with a “Scenic Background” upgrade, my child brought in the following note to his school photographer (and before you flip out, let me assure you he can’t read):

Dear Photographer,

My child has a wonderful smile, but sometimes his special needs get in the way of letting him share that smile in front of a camera.

Any extra time or effort you can lend to making his picture show the happy boy he typically is is much appreciated. I know you’re busy today, so thanks in advance.

Sincerely, etc. etc.

Please don’t get me wrong—my child is adorable. When he smiles, it is like a joy switch is flipped somewhere deep in his heart and he shines on everyone who sees him. But that sunshine-y glow has become very elusive to a camera. Whether it’s because of his fascination with electronic gadgets like cameras or because of physiological facial differences related to his special needs that have become more prominent in recent years (the industry term is “dysmorphic features”), he is not always photogenic. Blessings on whoever invented the digital camera, because with enough patience, time and effort we are able to capture his true beauty for posterity every now and then.

I’ve come to dread School Picture Day. If it weren’t for my typically developing daughter who happens to LOVE School Picture Day, I would skip them altogether. Since the flyers went home two weeks ago, she has talked of little else (“Only two days till Picture Day!”) and her outfit has been hanging in her closet for days. And because I can’t imagine sending in a check for her but not him, I give take a deep breath and hope for the best every year.

Trust me, I know there are plenty of typically developing kids, future George Clooneys and Halle Barrys, who will get really awful school pictures every now and then. With that posed grin and the wistful glance off to some imagined scene far off above and to the left of the photographer, it’s hard to look good.

When I have tried to explain it to a couple of friends with typically developing kids, they give me that look that tells me I might seem to be a tad overly sensitive about this. It’s just a picture. Take it. Leave it. Move on.

But I’ve come to realize what’s really bothering me about this whole picture day thing. It’s not about getting an 8-x-10-inch portrait that I can showcase on my mantle. It’s this: a person is looking at my child; let’s put aside for a moment that this person looks at people for a living — really tries to see them and capture their essence — and that I am paying him or her to do so. This person is looking at my child and what it seems to me is that they see “A Child with Disabilities,” and they don’t feel the need, responsibility or ability to get beyond that. And frankly, that scares me and it makes me sad.

Before I had my son, I will admit that I looked at people like him and I too only saw the disability. I’m not proud of that. My world was smaller then and it was much less interesting.

My son is beautiful. And he is worth getting to know. It might just take a little extra patience, time and effort. Anything you can spare to see the happy boy that he really is, inside and out, is greatly appreciated. Sincerely, etc. etc.

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About Cristin L.

Earthling, pilgrim, peace warrior and special needs parent
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3 Responses to Dear School Photographer

  1. Pingback: School pictures arrive! « Embracing Special Needs Parenthood

  2. Sory says:

    Great Job in try to educate others about our “childs beauty”
    Little by little one by one we will get there 🙂

    • Yes, they are all beautiful! Not everyone takes the time to see that though, and they miss out. It’s our privilege to help others see beauty everywhere, and to learn to see it ourselves too.

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