Admiring Autism

Since her young son was diagnosed as autistic, Sara Dunn has been attempting to help "challenge the myths surrounding autism" with a camera.

The photographer has been documenting her experiences with her son and other families affected by autism through photography.

Ms Dunn, 27, from Chester, stays with families for 48 hours to take images and wants to stage a public exhibition of her work, Admiring Autism.

"Some people have said to me they don't believe in autism, my son's just a naughty child. I've been told autistic children don't know how to love. They do," she said.

"Usually these children are having very complex sensory experiences and they're in distress, with some adults perceiving it as misbehaving. It's pretty scary."

The photographer said she hoped the images would explain that "when these children have a meltdown in public they are genuinely having a very complicated sensory experience"

Ms Dunn and her fiancé have a two-year-old son called Frank. After initially wondering if he was deaf, a doctor then mentioned autism.

"We thought we would have a fight on our hands by all the horror stories you hear about diagnosis taking years, but it was easy with Frank due to the severity of his needs", she said.

By the time he was 23 months old he was diagnosed as autistic.

The paediatrician told Ms Dunn it was the "first time she had diagnosed a child under two with the condition".

"It was really hard, I'm quite optimistic about it now but at the time I kind of grieved - it was a fork in the road", she explained.

Following the diagnosis, she decided to start taking photos of Frank to help her cope.

"I did it initially to remind myself that there are good days and there are small achievements. Before I knew it I also wanted to photograph the bad days to show the professionals involved", she said.

"Through the photography, I've realised the small triumphs that he has. More regular eye contact, more hugs, starting to understand simple commands like 'bath' or 'juice', it's a good reminder of how enjoyable these children are."

She added the images helped her manage "Frank's meltdowns and when he hits me".

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