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“Just Because” Local Photographer Offers Free Sessions for Families with Special Needs Children

Submitted Photo Local photographer Dawn Davison of Blessed Reflections Photography is offering free photography sessions for local families with special needs children. (Above) An example of Davison’s work.

by Michael Boyink /

Submitted Photo
Photographer Dawn Davison of Blessed Reflections Photography in Ava, Missouri.

It all started with a conversation. 

Well, several conversations.

With the same woman.

“I was doing photography and while at a vendor show a woman came up to me several times,” says Davison. “I later found out she was feeling me out to see what type of person I was. 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!”

The woman had – unwittingly or not – found the intersection of two things Davison had long been interested in – special needs children and photography.

“I have gravitated towards special needs children since the 3rd grade,” says Davison. “I use to play beeper ball with the visually impaired during recess or just hang out in the classroom with the children with special needs. We would just sit and talk or interact. I never really fit in as the “cool” kid. It was hard then, but now I look at it as a blessing. I got to see through different eyes.”

That first photo shoot led to more.

“I decided after that session to do something a little off the wall, inspired by a woman named Stephanie Smith,” says Davison. “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.”

Submitted Photo
Another photo from a Blessed Reflections photo shoot.

Davison says the photo sessions have led to more than just a one-time connection between photographer and subject.

“I’ve had an overwhelming response and built some of the best relationships with these “super heroes” and their families,” she says. “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.”

Davison says working with special needs children requires a bit of a different approach than a typical photo shoot. “The biggest key is patience! Patience, patience, patience,” she says. “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.”

A pre-shoot application helps Davison plan the day more effectively. “I require an application filled out prior to the session,” she says, “because that helps me to determine what props may be needed, what sensitivities, comforts and triggers, and allergies the child may have. It’s not about who is accepted, it’s about making the session as comfortable as possible for the child.”

She says the work has been rewarding. “The best part is watching the children grow. Most of my kiddos come back and I love to see how much they have changed in one year. 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.”

Davison has been offering the photo shoots for four years, but only recently in the Ava area. “We recently moved here from Rensselear Falls, NY,” she says. “My mom is getting older and a few years ago suffered a heart attack, so on our last visit we decided it was something we should do. It was totally out of the blue and unplanned, but felt it was somehow what we were called to do.”

Heart Smiles, Davison’s next free photo session for special needs children, is scheduled for Saturday, October 26th in the Ava City Park from 2-6 p.m.  More details about the event can be found via the Blessed Reflections Facebook page at

Interested families need to contact Blessed Reflections and fill out the pre-shoot application.

A Dropbox account is also required. “I do the session and then the parents/guardians will receive the final product (minimum of 5 poses) via DropBox for their use,” Davison says. “They will receive a print release to have the photos printed at a facility of their choosing. “

Davison stresses that her offer is completely free. “I want more than anything for people to know there are no strings attached,” she says, “none.”