When you have a child with special needs, a family photo session can present unique challenges. Cara Koscinski, occupational therapist and book author, shares tips for success at your next family photo shoot.

1. Plan ahead. Schedule your session at a time of day when children are well-rested and not hungry. Do not rush; arrive early.

2. Remain calm. You may not realize it, but children pick up on your energy and mood. Some of the best pictures are candid and taken at unexpected times.

3. Speak to the photographer ahead of time. Find one who is patient. See if she will schedule extra time for children who have special needs. If possible, schedule the photographer to meet with your family in a comfortable setting outside of the studio.

4. Practice. Use social stories and real-life pictures about what the child will encounter during the photography process. Practice often. Explain that the bright lights/flashes are OK and will not hurt children. Photography props are often wonderful distractions for kids.

5. Loosen up. Permit a child to have a transition or “safe” item. In every one of my family’s holiday pictures there’s an item that doesn’t quite belong, such as a train car or toy figurine. Remember that the memories of family being together should be more important than the “perfect” picture.

6. Be flexible. “Fancy” clothes are often scratchy, have tags, and may contain textures that aren’t familiar or comfortable to children with special needs. Permit children to wear comfortable clothes in colors of your choosing for the family portrait. Last year our photo featured blue and white. My younger son will only wear soft sweat pants so we allowed him to wear blue sweats for the photo. We all matched, and no one was the wiser!

Cara Koscinski, MOT, OTR/L, is the author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist for Families of Children with Special Needs. Find information at www.PocketOT.com