This past May, while I was in Sacramento, I had 4 scheduled photo shoots. Of all of these, this one had me the most nervous. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get the best images during this session. I wanted to capture the playfulness and true character of this little guy. However, this would be the first time I photographed a child like Joey, someone with special needs, someone with autism, and I simply didn't know what to expect. At the end of the day, not only did this turn out to be my favorite shoot, it was the easiest and most informative.
Quick backstory, I have known Joey's parents, Whitney and Gino, for years. Over two decades really. I met Gino while attending elementary school where he was one of my guidance counselors. I met Whitney a few years later during college. In fact, I was standing right next to her when she first laid eyes upon the man who would become her future husband while at a dance rehearsal for the show Seussical, which we were all involved in. There is a lot of history there and another added reason to why this shoot had to go perfectly. I didn't want to disappoint them. Yet, my fears and nerves where quickly subsided once I met their son.
I met them at their home since that is where Joey is the most comfortable. Joey is non verbal so he doesn't speak or make much eye contact. Which is fine. I was there to just observe and be his paparazzi for the afternoon. Since we were at his home he was so relaxed and eager to play whether it be with the hose or bounce on a trampoline or get carted around in a wagon.
Every so often I would catch him looking right at me and I could feel the hairs on my neck stand on end. It was like a little gift he was giving me.
I love what this session taught me. I learned that the word 'autism' isn't such a bad word as some media or anti-vaccine believers will make you think. Joey is a normal child, he just sees the world differently. How we perceive our surroundings, whether it be through sound or sight or smell, that perception is delivered differently to Joey. That's it.
What I learned the most, however, is what wonderful parents Gino and Whitney are. I got to witness how much love they have for their child in person and it was inspiring. How dedicated they are to him and to his upbringing and how they will do everything within their capability to ensure he has a healthy and happy life. It reaffirmed my hope in humanity that there are still good people in this world. And for that I thank them.