Captured Moments: Photos of Special Kids
Trying to get your child with special needs to sit still or make eye contact might not be easy. But that makes a good picture of him or her that much more special. Kerry St. Ours, a Long Island-based professional photographer, specializes in capturing shots of kids who have special needs, drawing from her experience photographing her 4-year-old son Tristan, who’s on the autism spectrum. “They’re innocent, they’re funny, they’re sweet. They’re just a joy,” St. Ours says. Here, St. Ours shares photographs of Tristan along with three other special kids from the New York metro area: 11-year-old Ashley Johnson of Queens and 4-year-old twins Christian and Gaven Perez of Long Island.
I think any parent has challenges photographing their own children because they know you and they know how to press your buttons—at least my son does,” says St. Ours, a mom of two from Huntington (Tristan’s older sister Natalie is 9).“Because I’m a professional photographer, the camera is nothing new. But sometimes when I want to take a picture, my son will be more interested in the camera itself—‘Can I push a button?’ ‘Can I see what the picture looks like?’”
The key to snapping great shots of your kids, she says, is to have patience and make it fun. “I follow their lead,” she explains. “I don’t pose, that’s just not my style. It’s more to me about the spirit of the child. For the viewer to see that, the child doesn’t always have to be looking at the camera. It’s in the little gestures.”
“Each picture helps tell our story,” says Michael Johnson, a Cambria Heights, Queens, father of two boys (ages 4 and 7) and 11-year-old Ashley, who has cerebral palsy. Because she’s unable to walk, Ashley uses a power chair to get around—except when she’s at home, where she likes the freedom of crawling. Her father also picks her up and carries her often, but he admits that’s more because he just likes to hold her. “I work a lot of hours, so the time I get to spend with [my kids] is special. My wife tells me to stop picking [Ashley] up—she’s almost 80 pounds now—but that’s just me. I can’t help it. You always want to hold or kiss your baby. Even though she’s my oldest daughter, I still treat her like that.”
Johnson says that because Ashley, who attends school at United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau, struggles with selective mutism on top of her physical condition, people often don’t see the side of her that her family does at home. But in these photos, he says, Ashley’s personality shines through. “Kerry got the natural smiles out of her. That’s what you see in her best moments.”
Christian and Gaven
Identical twins Gaven and Christian Perez, age 4, were diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 22 months. Mom Zaidy Perez says the biggest challenge to photographing the boys, who are full of energy, is getting them to sit still. “Gaven has a hard time understanding, and they both have issues with paying attention when their names are being called,” Perez explains. “The eye contact, it’s progressing, it’s getting better, but it’s still not that great. A lot of pictures [are] just them looking down. I take about a hundred pictures just to get that one.”
This moment (left) was captured at a park near the family’s home in West Babylon, where the twins have spent many weekends. “What I love is that what I’ve always known of them, the way their personality really is, you’re able to see it through the pictures,” Perez says. “It’s something other people don’t always get to see.” A playful and intimate moment (right) between Christian and the boys’ father, Brian Perez, is another special shot for the family to cherish.