Ever since she was a child herself, Dawn Davison of Missouri has felt more at home with special needs kids than she did with the “popular” crowd.
“I have gravitated towards special needs children since the 3rd grade,” Dawn explained, describing how she’d sit often play with the visually impaired kids in her class or just sit and interact with disabled students because she felt a connection that went far deeper than she could explain.
“I never really fit in as the ‘cool’ kid,” Dawn said. “It was hard then, but now I look at it as a blessing. I got to see through different eyes.”
Now that she’s an adult with children of her own, Dawn still feels that connection with kids who have special needs. Perhaps that’s why, a few years back, a woman approached the photographer at a fair and began feeling her out to see if she’d be a good fit to take family photos.
Dawn quickly figured out why; the woman’s sons are both autistic and require a special photographer to capture their essence, one who won’t be put off by their different behavior and mannerisms.
“She asked if I would be interested in doing a shoot with her family. She had two sons with Autism, one who was high functioning and one who was lower. I was nervous, but super excited and said yes!”
Dawn did the shoot and was reminded of why she’d always loved spending time with special needs kids all those years back. There’s something so pure about these sweet souls that she felt a calling to use her talents to bring joy to other families like theirs.
“I decided after that session to do something a little off the wall,” she said. “I’d offer free sessions for children with special needs. Photography and my love and admiration for the small heroes seemed to be a great combination.” Dawn started a new branch of her photography company called Blessed Reflections Photography, and her free sessions for families with special needs kids initiative was a big hit in her area of New York.
“I’ve had an overwhelming response and built some of the best relationships with these “super heroes” and their families,” she gushed. “I never had imagined I would fall in love with so many children! These families need something nice done, just because. I want to be the one who does it… just because.”
When it comes to getting the best pictures during a photo shoot with special needs kids, Dawn says the key word is “patience.”
“Depending on the disability the child may not be able to look at you or the camera. They may not be able to move or ‘pose.’ The parents also need to be part of the team. They know their child better than anyone.”
Before Dawn agrees to a free shoot the kids’ families must fill out an application. This process helps Dawn decide what props to use as well as making efforts to soothe the child’s sensitivities and avoid triggers that might make their time together uncomfortable.
It’s not about who is accepted, it’s about making the session as comfortable as possible for the child.
Dawn finds the work incredibly fulfilling and especially loves when families come back a year later so that she can see the amazing progress they’ve made.
“I had one boy who was non-verbal and when he came back the following year he had begun to talk. I cried. These kids are the best! Another little girl, who had been exclusively wheelchair-bound just recently started walking with a walker! These are little people with courage and strength that continuously amaze me.”
Dawn has offered these free shoots for four years, but since moving to the Ozarks she hasn’t found quite as many subjects as she’d like. She has a free session day scheduled for October 26, 2019, and other dates can be found on her Facebook page. She says she hopes that stories like this one encourage more families in her new area to come to her so that she can capture their beautiful children with her unique talents.
Most importantly, she wants families with special needs to have a lasting keepsake of their children. She also wants this session to be her gift to them, simply because she understands how hard they work just to make life work and wants to do something kind for them. “I want more than anything for people to know there are no strings attached,” she said. “None.”
We always love to highlight people like Dawn who use their talents to give back to others! Dawn’s photographs are truly lovely and provide these families with a memento they will always cherish. Plus, the kids have a great time using their imaginations and being “seen” in a world that often overlooks them. Great work, Dawn!
Share this story to spread the word about Dawn’s wonderful project. Interested in participating? You can reach her at (417) 414-0442.
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