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Boy with autism dresses as T.rex for family photos

Levi (left) with his cousin Lola (right). Levi picked the T.rex costume for the family photo shoot after finding previous portraits overwhelming Image copyright Roaming Magnolias
Image caption Levi (left) with his cousin Lola (right). Levi picked the T.rex costume for the family photo shoot after finding previous portraits overwhelming

Snapping a family portrait can be an unpleasant experience for anyone, but for children with autism, the stress can be overwhelming.

That's the case for eight-year-old Levi, who lives in Georgia with his mum Samantha Bishop, 26.

For years, it's taken as long as two hours to get a family picture, but last week it took the pair only 20 minutes to take the perfect photo.

How did they do it? By dressing up as dinosaur T.rex.

The images have warmed many hearts on internet forum Reddit where it was upvoted more than 123,000 times.

"This is the best thing ever! Our daughter is on the spectrum and always wears either a unicorn horn or Eevee ears everywhere we go. It's so awesome creating a life and space for our kids to stretch into themselves and not worry about petty rules like picture etiquette or that costumes are only for Halloween," wrote one contributor.

"This is what family photos should be about. Everyone's happy at the end, and makes for great stories later," commented another.

It also sparked debate about how to make family portraits a fun experience for autistic children.

"A lot of things can be difficult for Levi. Taking a picture usually involves a lot of bribery and a lot of dancing," Samantha, a professional photographer who runs her own business, told the BBC.

Levi is very self-conscious, and he usually finds going in front of a camera very uncomfortable.

When his mum asks him to smile or pose, he replies "mum, don't tell me what to do with my face. I don't know what I'm meant to be doing".

The longer it goes on, the more agitated he gets.

"I felt like we were forcing something on him that was uncomfortable for him. He didn't enjoy them and they weren't real smiles from him - they were forced and fake. Out of 5,000 photos, I may have had 10 great ones," Samantha explained.

Image copyright Roaming Magnolias
Image caption Levi and Lola had a great time together at the photo shoot

So this year, when Levi suggested he could dress up as one of his favourite characters, Samantha said yes.

"He loved it, he was laughing hysterically, and he was super-excited," she explained about the photo shoot of Levi and his niece Lola, who is his "best friend".

When she posted the pictures online, she received criticism from some parents for making Levi's autism a focus.

"So while many people don't see why his autism or other special needs have anything to do with this shoot, I think many will. This is him in his element. There are no forced smiles, no bribery, no pretend happiness," she wrote in response on their Facebook page Life with Levi.

"And so I choose to celebrate his 'labels' and teach him to use them to his advantage rather than see them as an obstacle."

Image copyright Samantha Bishop

As a photographer, Samantha says a lot of families tell her they have never managed to take a family portrait because their autistic child finds sitting still and posing too difficult.

Her solution is to let the children take the lead.

"If parents would just let the kids be themselves, it would be OK - they don't need the picture-perfect smile or moment, but if their child is happy, they will get the picture they want."

Levi and Lola are already thinking about their costumes for the next photo shoot - they've picked Ghostbusters.

By Georgina Rannard, BBC UGC & Social News