Most children with more severe forms of autism are notoriously hard to photograph. Instead of smiling and posing for a picture, they are squirming, making faces, or running around. This was definitely true for us in Quentin’s early years – he hated to pose for photos, and most of the good ones came out blurry. But lately, he’s become pretty great at it. My guess for why he’s improved so much at this? The selfie.
Ever since handheld digital devices – phones and tablets – have included cameras that are on the front of the device, the selfie become a new form of expression. Oxford Dictionaries even named “selfie” the Word of the Year in 2013. While many people might be jaded at the idea of celebrity selfies taking over social media outlets, in our home it has become something different.
For me, taking selfies with my kids has become that I do to entertain them during a long wait. It can be a lifesaver in a restaurant; I simply take out my phone and ask the kids to pose with me. Once, we were on a safari ride at a zoo and Quentin was continually reprimanded by the driver for standing up. What did I do to keep him quietly occupied? I started taking selfies with him! And, of course, there are the times where my kids are so cute and cuddly that I just feel obligated to capture the moment.
It can also be a great moment for us to talk about what different emotions look like. We practice our sad faces, our mad faces, and our happy faces. Quentin loves to make silly faces. Because I know that many people with autism struggle to recognize emotions, I feel like this is also a “teachable moment” (to use some educational jargon). Maybe some of this egocentric play can actually teach him a thing or two.
But Fiona loves selfies, too! Who doesn’t, in fact? The glorious thing about a selfie is that it is something everyone seems to love. Not only does it gratify narcissistic needs, but taking a picture together we get to cuddle closely (a nice sensory input) and feel a sense of togetherness. The artifact (the actual photo) of a selfie reminds us that we like being together, too.
My main hypothesis, however, is that the selfie has helped Quentin to become a better posed-picture-taker. That is, he has learned how to stay still for a camera. He knows that when we take a selfie that he can immediately see the results. The beauty of the digital age is immediate gratification. He understands why he must stay still and smile; he’s seen the results of a bad selfie and knows what a good one looks like. Plus, he seems to be endlessly narcissistic so he is always ready to take more. He loves looking at all kinds of photographs, but ones with his own image can be particularly appealing.
Below are a few of my favorite selfies taken with Quentin and Fiona over the years.