I believe taking pictures changes your view.
A few weeks ago I drove my son, Mike, to a short hiking trail so we could walk together. I looked forward to being out on a sunny day after a long winter.
Mike is an eight-year-old boy who loves rollerblading, riding on our tandem bicycle, and eating ice cream — he also has severe autism. And along with autism comes a deep love for Sesame Street video covers.
We parked at the trailhead, and I asked Mike to leave behind the video cover he’d been staring at. His shriek of protest hurt my ears. I was torn. I hate to have him lost in his video-cover world when I want him in mine, walking beside me. On the other hand, these objects are comforting to him.
I let him keep the video. And he drove me crazy; walking slowly, staring at it and making loud, repetitive noises. I was sad – this hike wasn’t what I planned. To distract myself from my disappointment, I took pictures of Mike walking. I took pictures of his video cover, and took pictures over his shoulder, capturing what he saw as he walked.
I joined Mike’s world rather than trying to drag him kicking and screaming into mine. Parents of kids with special needs know the dance of acceptance and fighting your child’s challenges. Parents of kids with autism know how hard it is to feel you come in second place to a video cover, a train or some other coveted item.
Mike is stubbornly drawn to his special objects and repetitive behaviors. I sometimes imagine that he has rejected our world and its complexities, choosing to stay with his favorite video covers and small airplanes for their predictability and simplicity.
As for our walk, I’d like to say I broke through the video barrier – that he left it behind and we held hands and kicked up dust as we wandered down the trail. Instead, like the path we hiked, our outing was up and down.
But when I took pictures, trying to see what he saw rather than trying to mold this experience into what I envisioned, my disappointment dissipated. This outing might not have happened the way I wanted, but maybe it was the way he wanted it. That counts, too.
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