A Lancashire family has been chosen to be featured in a photographic project highlighting awareness of what life is like for families who have a child with autism. AASMA DAY finds out more.
When Amanda Callaghan hears other parents complaining about how much their children chatter, she feels a pang as she longs for the day her son Lewis utters his first word.
However, she has no idea what the future holds for three-year-old Lewis who is non-verbal autistic and she and husband Dale know their youngest son might not ever talk.
Amanda, 43, says: “We do wish for the day when Lewis starts talking but we do not know what will happen in the future.
“Lewis could just suddenly start speaking one day, or he could never talk. We just have to wait and see what the future brings.”
Laughing, Amanda adds: “Luckily my four-year-old son Harrison makes up for the lack of talking from Lewis and is always chattering.”
Amanda and Dale, who live in Longridge, near Preston, realised something was not right when Lewis turned two and had not started talking like other children his age.
The couple approached their health visitor and voiced their concerns and they were referred to a community paediatrician who began assessing Lewis.
When he was two-and-a-half, Lewis was diagnosed with autism.
Amanda recalls: “By this point, it was not really a shock as we had our suspicions and had done some research and knew autism was a strong possibility.
“Before Lewis was diagnosed with autism, we knew nothing about it. Since then, we have learnt a lot about it.”
Lewis has never spoken and has limited understanding when people speak to him.
However, he communicates with his family through pictures using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and is a pupil at Hillside Specialist School for Children with Autism which takes children and young people from all over Lancashire.
Amanda says: “Lewis is a very intelligent little boy and he loves his iPad and can already sort out the alphabet and recognise numbers up to 100.
“However, although Lewis is almost four, we have to feed and dress him as he is unable to do this for himself.
“He also doesn’t sleep well at night or as much as other children.
“Lewis also doesn’t like walking anywhere so has to use a pram.
“One of the hardest things is not letting him walk on the road as he has no road sense.
“But looking at Lewis you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with him.”
Unlike some children with autism, Lewis is a sociable and loving child who enjoys hugs and cuddles, noise and being bounced about.
Amanda became aware of a project called “Admiring Autism: A Photographic Exploration into the World of Autism” run by Chester-based photographer Sara Dunn who also has a toddler with autism.
Sara wanted to show the highs and lows of living with a child with autism through photography. Amanda explains: “I saw a page all about the project on Facebook and Sara was advertising for 15 families to take part.”
The project aims to document in photographs how families cope with the ups and downs of living with a child who has the condition.
Sara will live with the 15 families who have children with autism for 48 hours each photographing them as they go about their daily lives.
Amanda’s family was chosen as one of the 15 and Sara has recently spent two days living with them.
Amanda says: “Sara took some fantastic photos and they were all natural shots as Lewis went about his day to day routine.
“I am quite interested in photography myself and enjoy taking photographs so when I heard about this project, I was very interested.
“I thought it was a unique opportunity and a good way of promoting awareness of autism.
“A lot of people do not know what autism is and because autism has such a wide spectrum, every child is different.
“Once Sara has all the photographs, she will hold an exhibition next year which will be a multi-sensory to show how autism affects different children.”
The Admiring Autism project has more than 1,600 followers on Facebook and is being supported by the National Autistic Society.