When we were preparing for the memorial service for my father, we went through a lot of photos, looking for those that best reflected all of the wonderful facets of his personality.

It was not hard to find great photos of him – it was hard winnowing them down to just the few we needed for the service.

As I was going through my personal albums, both online and hard copy, I was vividly reminded of another difficult time going through photos.

When the Navigator was about three or four I decided I wanted to make a collage of photos of him – you know, one of those photo paper collages you can order from a service online and then give to family as holiday presents.

I started going through all of our photos of him – his dad took a lot of pictures of his boy! – looking for ones of him smiling and laughing.

I had been a little stunned to discover that it was hard to find more than a few.

His first smile at me was when he was almost exactly one month old. It was delightful! He looked right at me and gave me a gorgeous gummy smile, his eyes sparkling.

I realized from going through the photos that between about one and two years old that he really stopped smiling for photos for us.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t a happy or laughing child, he was just refusing to give any attention to the photographing process, not acquiescing to our requests for smiles, not relinquishing his intense focus on his own interests.

The family holiday card from when he was about three or four is of his dad and me smiling while clearly holding onto a Navigator trying to get away, half his body already out of the frame.

I remember feeling a twinge of sadness as I was trying to make the collage, wondering why there were so few photos of our smiling, laughing boy after a certain age. The collage ended up having a lot of photos of him as a baby and not so many as a toddler.

In retrospect, I wonder now if the lack of smiling, laughing photos was maybe a clue to his eventual autism spectrum diagnosis. 

I have read that early signs can include a lack of smiling and laughing – except that he was smiling and laughing, just not all the time and not for many photos. 

If it was a sign of autism, with all his other milestones being timely met, it was subtle; too subtle to raise any alarms for us.

He smiles all the time now and is expressive both in front of and behind the camera.

Was his lack of smiling for the camera a sign of his autism? Or simply a phase?

We will probably never know.

What I do know is that when he looks right at me and gives me a gorgeous smile, his eyes sparkling, it is still delightful.

The Clue in the Photos