Research Communications

Cameras give voice to children undergoing medical treatments 

SchlosserBy Taylor Evans

Hospitals can be intimidating places, especially for children fighting life-threatening illnesses. Sterile rooms paired with a barrage of needles, pills, and whirring machines can leave young patients speechless.

Katelyn Schlosser, a master's student in child and family studies, gives these children a voice. For her thesis project "Photographic Research Through A Child Life Lens," Schlosser took cameras to a large freestanding children's hospital in the Midwest and gave them to a diverse group of five adolescents between the ages 14 and 18 who were receiving pediatric cancer or hematology (blood disorder) services.

Although others have pursued similar photography projects, Schlosser is unique for analyzing the photos through what she calls the "child life lens." Child life specialists are trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life's most challenging events, according to the Child Life Council, which provides certification for the field.

"Within the field of child life, we look at stressors on families and children and how we can help normalize the situations for them, primarily in hospital settings and medical settings, but it can also be nonmedical settings," she explains.

Using the cameras, the children documented their daily lives by photographing objects and moments that were significant to them. The subjects included family, medical instruments, and food.

One child took an abstract photograph of egg drop soup, Schlosser recalls. When she asked him to talk to her about it, he said, 'This is the first thing I could eat in two days.'"

Schlosser, who has a bachelor's degree in commercial photography from Ohio University, worked with both out-patients and in-patients. She found that the camera project was a useful form of expression for the children, especially for the latter group.

Schlosser is further analyzing the themes of the photographs to understand the unique experiences of the children receiving these medical services.

"I definitely think that continuing education for current hospital staff and non-medical staff about what the child has perceived and how they express that is very important," she says. 

(Above) Katelyn Schlosser showcased her work during the Graduate Research Series in Alden Library in 2013. She has graduated from the university.

Photo by Kate Munsch, Ohio University Libraries.

This article appears in the Autumn/Winter 2013 issue of Ohio University's Perspectives magazine.