Life Touched

‘Thank yous’ from Clark, others spur photo company to train photographers working with special needs kids

By Josh Cotton, Time Observer


Few words have the power of ‘thank you.’

For Warren County School District Superintendent Dr. William Clark, that’s been made abundantly clear recently – both personally and professionally.

And it goes all back to a kindergarten photo of his special needs son, Tony.

He told his story at the Lifetouch annual meeting in Minneapolis in late July.

“This past year, Tony started kindergarten with a full time aid in an autistic classroom,” he said. “On the day of Tony’s kindergarten pictures we weren’t sure how Tony would react. Tony is non-verbal, he may not understand the directions give to him nor can he communicate with the photographer…Picture day came and went, Gina (his wife) and I have no idea what to expect.”

But then came a surprise.

“The day the picture packet came home was amazing. When I opened the packet and saw Tony’s picture, I was blown away. The photographer had captured Tony in a moment that had him smiling brightly. If you looked close enough at the picture, you could see where the aides had been gently holding Tony,” Clark said. “Gina and I both know how Tony can be when trying to take a picture. To know that the photographer and aides took the time to capture Tony’s image at the right moment meant the world to us.”

“Some parents look at the school picture of their child and think, ‘Yep, that’s my kid.’ When viewing the picture, Gina and I not only saw a picture of our Autistic son but also more importantly we saw a picture of Tony in kindergarten.”

That lead to the desire to offer a “sincere thank you.”

The circumstances of that “thank you” take the story from personal to professional.

“When I attended the American Association of School Administrators Annual Conference in San Diego, Ca. (in February 2015), I was getting a bagel and noticed the gentleman next to me was Kelvin Miler, VP of Lifetouch,” he explained, who told Clark that they receive other letters “where photographers had shown similar compassion.”

The “thank yous” to Lifetouch from Clark and others prompted the company to seek a grant where, in conjunction with Fraser, a nationally recognized autism expert, a video module was prepared that will be utilized to teach the 19,000 photographers that work for Lifetouch across the country how to interact with autistic children.

So with an opportunity to thank Lifetouch at their conference, Clark didn’t let the opportunity slip away.

“Many of you strive to take the perfect picture of a still flower while taking a picture of an autistic child may be compared to capturing the image of a cheetah chasing an antelope. Thank you Lifetouch for capturing the perfect image of our Cheetah,” he told the conference.

Clark shared the story at the opening of the teacher in service on Thursday at Eisenhower.

He read part of a poem entitled “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley that tried to help people understand the unique experience of raising a child with special needs:

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

“That’s the way I feel about having a special needs kid,” Clark told the staff, reminding them to take the time to say “thank you” when good things happen throughout the upcoming school year.

After all, you never know how far a “thank you” can go.