People with neurological disorders or special needs, often have a hard time expressing their feelings in traditional ways. Photography is a great way to help them convey their feelings freely through art and self-expression.

For some neurological cases, such as autism, the individual tends to focus on minute details and repetitive behaviours, while usually showing little to no social skills. The photos taken by the autistic person can help bridge the communication gap as they can be a means of deeper communication. It can be a keepsake for the family or individual to reflect on. They can also help create a learning situation or discussion around the moment captured in the photo.

While photography allows one to embrace the moment, it is also a great initiative to encourage going outside and exploring your surroundings. Being in nature, surrounded by trees, flowers, and other calming scenic views, will help a person with special needs feel more comfortable exploring the world at their own pace – through the lens of a camera. Focusing on the task, camera in hand, can help a person with special needs – particularly, autistic people – feel a sense of familiarity, comfort and security, all while being in an over-stimulated or open space.

The art of photography is a skillset that can be learned over time. The student’s level of disability and eagerness to learn, will impact how easily they can learn to express themselves through a lens. It is also a great way to evolve at their own pace and can be enjoyed both by the individual taking the photo and the viewer admiring it.

Despina Ioanidis, a photographer from Laval, shares some insight from her experience of teaching special needs students’ photography. “I have observed that once I give them the tools, that ensure the development of their perceptual awareness, the sky is the limit,” she explains. “Students have different levels of disability, yet all have a hidden world to share from within. I help them see and understand the world around them and they will in turn capture their feelings and experiences in a visual form.”

Each student is indeed unique and will be driven to capture images that attract them. Photography is not only a way to give them a voice through self-expression, but also a means to self-accomplishments. Ioanidis, feels there have been clear signs of improvement in her students’ self-esteem, and ability to focus, which encourages them to perform and be even more creative. “Each student is unique like an artist. They do have an acute sense to detail and observation. Lines, patterns, shapes all come to life in their captures.”

With patience and proper encouragement, the individual can go a long way. These skills can also be transferable into daily life, which can help them deal with potential obstacles they may encounter.