April marks Autism Awareness Month. Petra Mann speaks to the mother of an autistic toddler about her photographic exhibition to celebrate the highs and lows of the condition.

It's a busy morning in the Dunn household.

Sara Dunn is dashing around her three-bedroomed family home in Vicars Cross Chester when she suddenly stops in her tracks.

Her two-year-old son Frank sits quietly staring intently at her nose before an uncontrollable smile sweeps across his face.

This is one of Sara’s “golden moments.”

 

“It’s a sign Frank is connecting with me. These moments are fleeting but they make everything worthwhile - they are golden.” Sara said.

Frank has moderate to severe autism - he has the development age of a 12-month-old and cannot speak.

He is Sara and fiancé Liam Harvey’s, 24, only child.

For Autism Awareness Month Sara, 27, a photographer, has created an online exhibition of pictures of autistic children to highlight the condition.

She said: “Looking after someone with autism is hard and there are days when it’s difficult.

“But there are brilliant days and looking at photographs of the good days when you’re having a bad day helps you cope.

“Frank loves anything that spins such as wheels or fans and it’s lovely to capture those sort of images.”

The exhibition’s title - “Admiring Autism: A Photographic Exploration into the World of Autism” - sums up the aim.

“I want people to really stop and admire all aspects of autism.

“I want parents to admire themselves when they’ve coped with a rough patch.”

Since its launch in October the project in has attracted more than 1,600 followers on Facebook and has won backing from the National Autistic Society.

Fifteen families are now involved from Ellesmere Port, Chester, Cheshire, Wigan, Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, Nottingham and Leicester.

“I’ve had such a great response from people. It’s good to know there are other families out there who feel the same as we do.”

Sara also hopes the project will debunk some misunderstandings about the condition.

“Sometimes when we’re in public Frank will have a meltdown and people think he’s being naughty but he’s not - it’s part of the condition.

“But for every one person who gives a negative reaction there are ten people who are great about it.”

Emma Shepherd, The National Autistic Society’s policy and participation officer for the north of England, praised Sara’s efforts.

She said: “Autism, which affects more than one in hundred people in the UK, is a much misunderstood condition which often leaves parents of children with autism feeling isolated and excluded from mainstream life.

“We think Sara’s Admiring Autism is an inspirational project.

“While revealing the enormous challenges faced by parents, she also documents the uniqueness of her subjects and the beauty and joy in their diverse worlds.”

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