At Kidamento, we consider ourselves fortunate to provide skill-oriented toys to children from near and far. And when we hear from our customers how much our cameras have helped, this sincerely gladdens our hearts beyond words.
But what happens when potential customers reach out and we don’t have the answer? This is what happened when some parents with autistic children reached out about our cameras. We want to help but considered ourselves out of our depth. This is what we discovered.
A Little Bit About Autism
Being aware of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one thing; being experts is another. And to be able to answer questions confidently to the parents who want to know if our cameras will help their children, we wanted to know more of what it is to be autistic.
Autism is often referred to as being on the spectrum as there is a wide range of types and conditions. These conditions include repetitive behaviors, difficulty with speech and nonverbal communication, challenges with social skills, and other individual differences and strengths.
These challenges and strengths are caused by both environmental stimuli and different combinations of genetic influences. Typically, autism reveals itself in children between the ages of 2 and 3. Reports from the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System (NASS) state that autism affects 1 in 66 children in Canada; that is, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
Nurturing Children with Autism
While all children need to be nurtured, children with autism require special consideration. We know that children often learn through play. Play allows children to learn essential skills and to use their imagination.
When we look at children on the spectrum, we must take into account toys and activities that allow for them to engage their five senses and provide them with sensory input. For some, they may have difficulty processing these senses, therefore, toys that engage their senses can have a great impact.
When looking for toys that activate these senses, we should consider three particular areas. First, your child’s proprioception, which is a sense of their own body as well as tactile stimulation; how it feels on their skin. Second is vestibular input, their head’s position, and movement.
Further to sensory toys, take particular consideration with those which aid in improving fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are the coordination of small muscles through movement. These skills require that the eyes, hands, and fingers all work together.
Another influential factor to consider is toys that allow children to express themselves, particularly, when language for them is difficult. Parents often feel frustrated when communication with their autistic child is challenging. It can leave a feeling of disconnection. A toy that aids in their communication can be a lifesaver.
Are Cameras a Good Fit for Autistic Children?
While we do believe the answer to be yes, we want you to feel confident in this affirmation as well. That said, let’s take a look at what we do know. The first part we can confidently address is that when it comes to developing a child’s fine motor skills, autism or no, cameras are a notable tool.
Using a camera requires little hands to not only hold onto a camera but also develop the ability to click a button. They are also required to look through the viewfinder at what is before them. This too aids in developing their fine motor skills as well as their vestibular input, their head’s position, and movement.
Next, many autistic children have a hard time with verbal communication. But just because they have a hard time with the verbal aspect of interacting with others, whether friends, family, or even strangers, does not mean they cannot do it at all.
By offering them a different means by which to communicate and interact, we are opening up more possibilities for them. Through looking at their pictures, we get to see the world through their eyes. No longer intimidated that they are required to communicate solely through words, their confidence soars, as does their independence.
Support Through Research
We understand that one can easily say that something is good for someone and yet have no evidence to back it up. We were intrigued to find that there have been studies that examined the topic of autism and photography.
In one particular study, researchers decided to give those with autism digital cameras to see how they perceived the world and matched them with a control group of non-ASD participants. First, they discovered that those with ASD took more pictures than the control group.
Next, the autism participants spent longer on the session, and they also spent longer taking pictures of other people, 12 minutes versus 4 minutes. The next part of the study involved independent raters to blindly judge which photos were taken by those with ASD and those without.
In each moment, the judges guessed correctly. Indicating clues included repetitions of objects, photos of bodies without faces, photos that lacked engagement with the photographer, more unusual or single object shots, and different visual perspectives.
Ultimately, their findings indicated that those “with ASD had unusual features and showed strikingly different ways of photographing other people.” What is more, is that these photos give a window not just at how those with ASD view the world but “may instead reveal how individuals with ASD attempt to communicate their experiences to others.”
Another study, while relating to teens, discusses that even though youth generally all want to connect with others and make friendships, those with ASD often find it more challenging. In this study, they were given disposable cameras and asked to take pictures of their social experiences.
What they uncovered was that those with ASD have a good understanding of what friendship is, yet despite this understanding, they have a hard time with the application of it. Through this experience, they saw how the camera could be used as a facilitator of friendship.
The Trusted Word of An Experienced Teacher
As you can see, research provides comprehensive support behind the claims that photography can be a valuable skill for those with ASD. But sometimes, you need to hear it from those who have experienced it themselves. Such as a teacher who uses photography to work with students with a wide range of disabilities, from anxiety to autism.
In her experience, there are four benefits of photography for those with autism. The first is that it encourages independence. She states that taking photographs independently is a socially accepted behaviour, and as such, they can be comfortable and not feel awkward about it.
The second is that photography is an art form that allows for freedom of expression and values unique perspectives. Children with autism thrive in this area as they often think outside of the box and don’t see the world the same way those without ASD do.
The third, she suggests, is that it allows for them to be flexible with their thinking. With ASD often comes the desire for structure, but with photography, they learn that there is more than one way to view something. She encourages them to take a picture of something beautiful, and from that, they learn that beauty can be anywhere, in anything.
Lastly, it encourages their communication skills, something we have highlighted above. She notes that she never forces them to express their thoughts in any one way. They can be sitting, standing, can write it out; they can even be walking around.
What she notes most of all is the excitement she sees on their faces when they look through a camera lens. If nothing else, it is a way to include and engage autistic children in a manner that they have never felt before. They are inspired by something.
An Inspirational Story
Through our research into the world of autism, we came across a story that was truly inspirational and worth sharing. It is the story of a five-year-old autistic boy and how a simple camera helped him understand the world.
The article tells the tale of how at a family gathering, a mom, Danielle Pritchard, gave her son, Max, a camera to ease his restlessness. Max, who suffers from feelings of being overwhelmed by noise, sights, and smells, became fascinated at first touch with this camera.
She describes how the camera acted as “something between him and the neurotypical world to help him.” She watched as he began to interact with other children and explain to them how the camera works.
Since this memorable day, he has continued to use the camera as a gateway to interact with other people. And it has helped him to engage better with the outside world. It has also helped her to better explain the world to him. If he takes a picture of a boat, she can explain to him what boats are now that his attention is focused on it.
She is happy to have given him something to connect with which has aided in helping him better understand the world. After all, studies support that early intervention, that is, programs and activities that are designed for children under the age of seven, help those with autism to grow up stable and healthy.
This is because the younger years are when children’s brains are the most malleable. Even more so, anything we can do to help them develop an improved grasp of social cues, even with the help of a camera, is extremely important as it is something they can struggle with their entire life.
We can honestly say we have learned a lot about autism and those who have to live on the spectrum of this disorder. And while we may never consider ourselves experts on the subject, we can at least confidently say that we firmly believe cameras can be a great aid to those with autism.
And if we might be so humble to suggest that if you are looking for a camera for your autistic child, or another you know, keep in mind that those with ASD like technology and buttons. Therefore, we would recommend either Meowie or Zippy, as they come with a button to click and lens covers to remove.
However, our Koko instant print model will print their creations instantly and allows them to push all the buttons they desire. While we have always promoted the many benefits that using a camera can have with children, we never imagined there would be so many extended benefits for those with ASD.
From simply developing their fine motor skills to engaging their senses. Cameras allow non-verbal autistic children a way to communicate with others and interact in their world on their terms. Seeing them use cameras as a way to reach people, develop friendships, and break down the barrier, is simply magical. And this magical journey is something we are honoured to be a part of.