If there is a picture that can tell a thousand words, it is this one.
The average observer would think that the above photo is just a beautiful picture of three siblings that captures a funny moment. While that may be true, the actual story is much more profound and spans several years.
My 12-year-old, Joey, never seemed to like family photo shoots. In fact, some of his very worst behavior (and meltdowns) happened during our sessions with photographers. I never understood it, and it frustrated my husband and me to no end. Pretty much every time we attempted to take photos as a family, it ended in tears (Joey’s and mine).
The first time I can recall it being a major issue was when my daughter was born. We attempted a newborn shoot with the five of us. Joey, who was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s, was already under incredible stress with the addition to our family. He was totally uncooperative at the photo shoot. Whenever the lovely photographer tried to ask him to change positions, he would flail his arms and overreact, as if he had been physically hurt. It was insanely infuriating. The newborn was cooperating. The 6-year-old was cooperating. Why couldn’t the 9-year-old? It ended with Joey crying and any chance of happy big brother photos totally gone.
The pattern continued for every photo shoot we had for the following three years. I tried everything and despite his promises, the shoots were just too overwhelming for Joey.
The past two years, our family friend Summer has been taking our photos. She has twins on the spectrum, and she did her very best to work with Joey. She let him take the lead and make some decisions about where he would stand. She was as patient as can be. We even agreed to do a Star Wars themed photo shoot at Disney last year to try and make it as enjoyable for Joey as possible.
It didn’t matter–he was miserable, and he let everyone know it. Summer did her very best to composite a family photo together. We ended up with some decent shots, but none of them captured the sweetness of Joey the way I wanted all of my kiddos captured in photographs. He just didn’t allow it.
This year Joey was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The psychiatrist explained that while it appeared that in certain situations Joey was behaving poorly, what that really was, was anxiety coming out. He couldn’t control it. She suggested that we try some medications along with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help him cope with the anxiety.
Within a few weeks of starting him on medication, we saw a HUGE change. He was happier, more relaxed, and more himself. The anxiety seemed to be less all across the board. He wasn’t cripplingly worried about being late to school anymore. He wasn’t crying about getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep. He didn’t freak out when I made small talk with “strangers” at the grocery store. The big test would be our holiday photo shoot.
Summer and I had a chat about it, and decided to keep the vibe as calm as possible. I told Joey that the photo shoot would take about 30 minutes. I asked him to please listen to Summer’s direction and cooperate. This time we were dealing with a 3-year-old sister, and I needed her to follow his lead.
Not only did he cooperate, he was a rock star. Summer got the most beautiful shots of him. But this one, where Summer told them a knock-knock joke, says it all. The pure happiness and unfiltered joy on his face is priceless. This photo will always be a reminder to me of how we unlocked the happiness in Joey. I was worried if we started him on medication that it could change him, or take away his personality. This medication has given us more of him. It’s given him a break from crippling anxiety. It’s given all of us a glimpse into what his future can be, and that future looks picture perfect.