Digital Photography and a Journey into Buddy's World

My son’s recent and growing fascination with digital photography has enabled us to communicate in a way I didn’t think we’d ever be able to.

Most of you know about my son’s growing interest in digital photography. It started with my desire to memorialize his first experience while he was in costume play-acting — a costume designed by his teacher and performed in at a school play. After seeing the whole outfit, I could have kissed his teacher for encouraging his creativity.

From his earliest pictures (posted here) Buddy has slowly but surely grown into a hobby photographer, normally he just takes the camera from me! Ever the one to justify my own guilty habits, for Christmas Buddy received his first digital camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8. It fits perfectly in his hands although it can be a challenge to his fine motor skills to adjust some of the settings. (I am, after all, a part time therapist)

He wasn’t sure what to make of this gift when it arrived, he was used to seeing Dad’s large DSLR’s instead of this little pocket thing. After a quick run through of all the controls he dove right in — taking pictures of most everything. He has steadily progressed in his understanding of the camera’s multiple controls.

Reading a camera manual is difficult for some adults and is outside of the realm of Buddy’s current capabilities. Any explanation is either explained by a convenient adult figure or worked out on his own. He hasn’t discovered the movie mode on his camera yet. What he has figured out though is how to take pictures and he snaps 100s of them

Most know the challenges Buddy faced when he came into this world. Though I haven’t blogged about these stories — blogging didn’t even exist when Buddy was born — instead I hammered out my thoughts and feelings on the word processor. As any parent to a child with disabilities knows, your world rearranges itself once you realize your child’s condition. It has to. But in those 14 hours when Buddy’s and my life was normal, — like any other new parent I planned for so many things in his life, for him to be everything I wasn’t.

He is going to be a better golfer than I am, I thought, as he clutched my finger only hours after birth. He is going to be popular, where I considered myself nothing more than a geek at best. He was, in those 14 hours, everything I wasn’t. A new and better Chris. Chris — Improved.

A parent to a child with disabilities also has to let all of those things go. Even in the “normal” world, in my imagination. As he grew, Buddy was going to lose the pro-golfer status, the chance to be a world famous author, President or sports star. (I must admit, the geek in me thought about bowling instead of football. I couldn’t help myself — we are who we are!) In Buddy’s world, it all happened much too quickly. In a flash they were gone.

My dreams for Buddy changed a whole lot sooner than most. It was hour 15 after his birth, as the doctor strolled out of our room, five minutes after telling us that our lives were going to be a bit different than we planned. As abruptly as this realization came to us, it’s a surprisingly healthy thing, though I wouldn’t have said so at the time .

Slowly some of the things that I thought Buddy would never have in his life have come. Not in the way I expected, but there nonetheless. I call this “Buddy’s World” and it’s different there. Things do overlap, but it’s a different place.

I enjoy Buddy’s world, but I have always wished I could better understand how he sees the world, to help me be a better parent for him. In Buddy’s World you hum when drying off with a towel; you push your face against the TV to feel the static electricity. (When we got the DLP this ended though—drat!) We stand and go through sliding doors by moving one step out of range and then step forward and then step back again. We don’t do this once, we do it many times. A lot of fun in Buddy’s world is rediscovering the simple things time and time again. Perhaps the most joy comes from the fact that these things are usually forgotten by him and so can be rediscovered again the next day.

Buddy can barely talk, though that skill is improving in leaps and bounds. He will likely never share my past time of reading although we are hopeful he will learn how to read someday. He and I have played golf and Buddy can now make the 3-footers that I struggle with. In some ways he is still Chris Improved.

Photography allows Buddy to communicate in ways that he would not be able to otherwise. What matters to him. We all take pictures for not only the art and beauty of things, but to document our lives. To show the world that these are the things I wanted to save.

Buddy takes photos of what he saw and, for whatever reason, interested him. Looking at these photos is as close as I can get to “being” Buddy… to understand his world as he sees it. A recent search of one of Buddy’s photo galleries uncovered six pictures of me, three of Kate and four of Punkin’. There were, however, 28 pictures of Wall-E. Photos taken from all angles, macro shots and even a Lensbaby type shot. How he did the latter I don’t have a clue, but it’s there, soft focus and everything.

He even uses his camera as a tool to communicate better. Recently, Buddy came running downstairs, pointed to the LCD on the camera and said, “Milk.” Buddy has photographed his milk glass and it was indeed empty. Another time he showed the picture of the VCR box of The Jungle Book which he pointed at and said, “Watch.”

Now, in case his former teacher reads this, the first time this happened it was cute and we let it slide. The next time however, we chuckled, told him how smart he was, but then made him walk through the whole sentence. Such is Buddy’s World.

In-between Buddy’s show and tell, he takes pictures. Hundreds of them. Pictures of me, his sister and all of the things that matter to him. Some I can’t figur
e out, some are of stuffed animals and others are of the TV screen itself to preserve favorite spots of a movie.

I will admit to doing this myself when I was little older than Buddy. With me though, it was James Bond movies… how cool it was with him skiing down a hill or when he was shot into space with the metal teeth guy. This was with a film camera though, and it was of different shows. Star Trek, the doomsday device (I also did a voice recording of that one). And before you laugh — this WAS the days before VCRs!

I have enclosed Buddy’s digital photography pictures here. I posted them all unedited since I don’t think he is too concerned about culling them. I’m not sure he even understands at this point. Plus, I don’t want to trash an image he might later consider keepsake or any of his images for that matter. Enjoy a peek into Buddy’s World.

Me, I’m just happy.

SherryinWI - I love it! My 7 and 8 year old love taking pictures too and it is really interesting to see what they feel needs to be documented and photographed. I am happy you posted this link on the Ds Info Exchange site. Now I have a awesome blog to follow on my Macbook.

Beverly - Thanks for sharing. I think it is great and love seeing the photos he takes!

jamie knuth - As Tyler’s former teacher, I have always said that using pictures and picture cues has always been Tyler’s best form of communication. When I read this blog, the light bulb came on for me! Something so sill as being the “camerman” in our Poetry Jam has turned out to being the key into “buddy’s world”. I’ve always said Tyler was such a bright kid with so much potential! You need to run with this! Not only is it the best way to “see” with Tyler’s eyes, but this is something–disability or not–that he can be successful with. You need to google Michael Jurogue Johnson, a young adult artist with Down Syndrome. Check out what he is doing in his young 20s. I met him a few years back–he paints for a living and does well for himself. Tyler could do the same with his photography (especially since he’s learning it at such a young age). Keep those goals and aspirations high. He can do it!
ps. Tell me what you think about Michael’s Paintings! I have some originals at home…..I love them!

Yabut - Thanks for sharing Buddy’s photos, Chris. There are some amazingly good ones in there. I see some that you should definitely frame, and others that could be easily used for next year’s Christmas cards.
Buy a frame and pick a picture to hang in a special place. Change the pictures from time to time….like, call it the picture of the week, or picture of the month or something. How’s that for an idea to encourage him?

Don Crane - These are awesome! Our son Matthew is 5 and He loves to take pictures. I am amazed at how His perspective sees things and people so uniquely and with such artistic style. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Mielke - @Yabut Excellent idea on the frame. We will have to look into it.

@SherryinWi Thanks so much for the comments. Gotta love the Macbooks! 😉

@Beverly It was amazing how quickly he learned how to intuitively use the camera. Next up will be movie mode!

@jamie knuth So nice to hear from you again. Amazing what a little costume can do isn’t. Thanks so much again. Thanks for the name as well. Wonderful work he has done.

@Don Crane I was very surprised at myself being in the pictures and the perspective of what he sees. I never realized how tall I was!

rebecca - Hello there, I happened upon your blog from a link a friend sent me. I am the mother of a four and a half year old girl who sports an extra chromosome on her 21st pair.

I look forward to reading your blog.

Chris Mielke - @rebecca Thank you it won’t always be about Tyler, but I hope it has and continues to be of interest.

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