Avery Winter Boles, 4 — the Boles family, Texas
Spectrum Inspired is a nonprofit organization that helps shift misguided perspectives on autism by offering free photo shoots for families caring for a loved one with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD includes a wide range of behavioral traits that vary per diagnosis. Those traits may include difficulty communicating or engaging in social interactions, repetitive behavior, and resisting changes in routines. This in no way means that individuals with ASD are not capable of living vibrant and fulfilling lives.
Here, Sarah Driscoll, cofounder of Spectrum Inspired and an autism mom herself, speaks with BuzzFeed News on the organization's inspiring mission and shares examples of how photography can help destigmatize an often misunderstood disorder:
We have chosen to tell these stories because many of us who make up our team are autism mommas, advocates, or teachers with a passion to help those on the spectrum become successful. Too often, we do not give those touched by autism the right guidance and understanding. These people, impacted by autism, are so beautifully unique and have so much potential to flourish just like the rest of us, and we are merely hoping that by sharing their faces and their stories, people will begin to understand the beauty of the spectrum and the beauty of individuality, in general.
I have a son on the spectrum. His name is Luke and he is 6 years old. This is very personal for me every single day. He is a beautiful boy who never speaks up and struggles with expression and communication. It wasn’t until kindergarten that we realized how much knowledge he had inside his brain, though. It takes so much work every single day to get him to open up to the world and those around him, so I work hard every day to help others understand him and know that just because he's quiet and has specific challenges, it does not mean for a single second that he does not have something to say and that he is not worth hearing, seeing, and loving.
I hope people take away from these pictures an understanding that individuality should not be feared, that autism comes with challenges but it also comes with beauty when you dig deep enough to see it, that the world needs to welcome people with quirks and differences, and accept that it only makes everything a bit more colorful. We are all in this together, and Spectrum Inspired is a place to share your story and be heard and understood.
Maxwell, 9 — the Bennett family, Santa Rosa, California
"Maxwell is direct, honest, curious, and passionate about knowing everything he can about the world." —Maxwell's mother
Brandon, 15, and Lilian, 7 — the DeSpain family, Texas
"Autism isn't all sunshine and rainbows and it has definitely taken a lot from me, but has given me so much more in return. I believe that siblings are an incredible part of success in the world of autism, and my three kids prove that...undeniable love without limitation." —Brandon and Lilian's mother, Amanda
Kalil, 3 — the Crudup family, Arizona
"He is talented, smart, ambitious, friendly, caring, and so lovable toward everyone." —Kalil's mother, Brittney
Mason, 4 — the Franks family, Kintnersville, Pennsylvania
"Since the day we got our diagnosis, we have been on the move with 35-plus hours of therapy a week. Mason doesn't have a 'normal' childhood [...] because we are always on the move trying to get to the next appointment. However, at the end of the day, when we hear Mason's little voice say 'goodnight' and 'ove you' (love you), I know we are doing the right thing for all of us!" —Mason's mother
Alexi, 6 — the Warawa family, Alberta, Canada
"If Alexi can teach anyone anything, it's how to just love. He loves everyone and just wants everyone to be happy...and I think that's what life is about..." —Alexi's mother
Alex, 3 — the Brandt family, Oceanside, California
"He is complex — on the outer layer, he is rough and tough. Inside, he is truly a big softy and very lovable and sweet. He is always happy unless he is dealing with overstimulation." —Alex's mom, She-Ra
Kennedy, 4 — the Hawes family, Arizona
"Kennedy is very friendly, sweet, and inquisitive. She LOVES to have her pictures taken. She loves animals and eating." —Kennedy's mom, Blaire Hawes
Claire, 10 — the Smith family, Washington, DC
"Our lives are very busy and chaotic with four children who all have different needs. Claire requires a great deal of time and attention. Although she has significant challenges, she brings a lot of love to our family." —Claire's mother
Ryu, 6 — the Higa family, San Diego
"It took some time to get through the grief of the diagnosis, but three years later I can say that we have made great progress and really hope that we are honoring Ryu and his beautiful way in the world as well as helping him navigate, and feel confident in this society that doesn't always cater to his differences." —Ryu's mother
Jimmy, 3 — the Barkanic family, Allentown, Pennsylvania
"Sometimes autism is hard, but loving Jimmy is easy and he has most definitely made me a better human being!" —Jimmy's mother, Lauren