32 Ways Photographers Can Better Accommodate Autistic Marriers

32 Ways Photographers Can Better Accommodate Autistic Marriers

[Image description: 32 Ways Photographers Can Better Accommodate Autistic Marriers. As Autism Acceptance Month approaches in April, here are some ideas to support Autistic clients year round, beyond awareness + acceptance + into appreciation, empowerment, + advocacy.]

I reached out to folks in my Autistic communities to ask for some ways photographers can better support Autistic marriers. While these are possible accommodations, it’s important to note that the Autistic community isn’t a monolith. Autism exists on a spectrum, so we don’t want to put people into boxes or assume what accessibility looks like for them.

There will likely be competing accessibility needs listed here. We’ll never know what an Autistic client needs without asking how we can better support them. Some of these suggestions may be habits we’ve already implemented into our workflow and would likely benefit Allistic clients as well.

As Autism Acceptance Month approaches in April, let’s find ways to support Autistic clients beyond awareness and acceptance and into appreciation, empowerment, and advocacy. Be mindful that Autism Speaks is considered a hate group by much of the Autistic community. We are not a puzzle to be solved or in need of a cure–but we do need support, whatever that looks like for us.

I encourage Autistic marriers to share what works for them below, if they have the spoons to do so. Much like myself, this list is imperfect and will be ever-growing.

Leading up to the session:

  1. Deliver detailed timelines and let them know what to expect.
  2. Invite clients to send photos of yours that they vibe with to get a better understanding of what they visualize.
  3. Provide support with styling suggestions when asked. Comfortable clothing is key–different outfits can be available as the day progresses. Earplugs or headphones can also be worn if that’s supportive.
  4. Encourage clients to be themselves and to express joy, however it may look (happy flaps are welcome).
  5. Support any ideas that affirm the marriers, whether it’s a silent disco or creating a playful sensory area.
  6. Avoid using gendered labels like “bridezilla” that further stigmatize clients who may hyperfocus on details.
  7. Show curiosity around who clients are as people.
  8. Recommend Autistic vendors, such as Autistic wedding planners (researching and preparing timelines can be one of our specialties).
  9. Clearly communicate any limitations in advance.
  10. Ask folks what they’re looking for in their photo experience, so you can co-create it together.
  11. Encourage marriers to invite the amount of guests that makes them comfortable. If that’s none, that’s valid.
  12. Seek out photo locations that are familiar to the client, whether it’s at a formal venue or backyard.
  13. Express a genuine interest in a client’s SPINs (special interests), which will give you something to chat about during sessions.
  14. Remind clients that they can craft a celebration around their sensory needs This can look like doing private vows or declining cake cutting and special dances.
  15. Let clients know that if they’d like an excuse to take a social break at any point, they can communicate that to you (verbally or nonspeaking) and  you’ll “sneak them away for some photos.”
  16. “Getting ready” doesn’t have to look a certain way. Whether with a partner or close friends, or alone with some stim songs and snacks.
  17. Advocate for your clients by reaching out to their venue in advance to confirm there’s a space for them to decompress if sensory overload kicks in. Encourage them to update their signage if it’s a gendered space.

During the session:

  1. During posing, guide clients with clear direction and provide choices so they can lead the way.
  2. Ask people what they prefer in regard to posing, as this differs drastically person-to-person (some may prefer minimal, while others benefit from having more guidance). If someone wants you to show a pose rather than telling, always ask for consent before touching them.
  3. Encourage natural smiles by photographing candid laughter rather than asking clients to smile on demand.
  4. Break any group photos (wedding party, etc.) into a few short sessions to make it less overwhelming.
  5. Suggest wrapping up the bulk of posed photos prior to the ceremony. Be open to the idea of this not including the potential pressures of a first look.
  6. Take advantage of lenses like the 85mm by pulling as far away from the action as you can, to give folks space.
  7. In general, give marriers the space to be playful with each other.
  8. Encourage shaking out poses and silliness.
  9. Offer marriers opportunities to take breaks and have time together to recharge away from crowds.
  10. When possible, photograph folks outdoors at busy events, so when sounds overlap, it isn’t as overwhelming because noise can be diffused.
  11. Offer alternatives to direct eye contact if that is uncomfortable.
  12. Invite clients to pause, hydrate, eat a snack, use stim toys…whatever they need to process and pace out the day.
  13. Don’t play music during your sessions unless you have consent to do so. Ask clients if they have a favorite playlist.
  14. Inquire if flash should be used sparingly, or not at all, if possible.
  15. Encourage interactions through parallel play (lawn games, etc.) to enable candid socialization.

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