A Longridge family has been chosen to feature in a photographic project which will raise awareness of how families live with a child suffering from autism.
Dale and Amanda Callaghan, of Eskdale Road, have two sons, four-year-old Harrison and three-year-old Lewis, who was diagnosed with autism 18 months ago.
This week, Chester-based photographer Sara Dunn, who is also the mother of a toddler who suffers from autism, is spending 48 hours with the Callaghans as part of her “Admiring Autism: A Photographic Exploration into the World of Autism”.
This is a project, which aims to document photographically how families cope with the ups and downs of living with a child who has the condition.
Sara plans to live with 15 families who have children with autism, each for 48 hours, photographing them as they go about their daily lives.
Families from Ellesmere Port, Chester, Cheshire, Wigan, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Leicester are also taking part in the project.
She plans to document their lives in a photographic exhibition next year that will be multi-sensory. This means that if, for instance, one photo shows a distressed child, there would also be strong lights and sound to show what it is like for an autistic child to be overpowered by light or sound.
Amanda says that it was communicating with other families who have children with autism through social media groups that she came across the “Admiring Autism” project.
She said: “We didn’t know a lot about autism before Lewis was diagnosed at the age of two-and-a-half and this seemed a project to get involved with to try and raise awareness of what it is like.
“Lewis is almost four now and we were quite lucky really to get him diagnosed at such an early age. He is non-verbal, which means there is no verbal communication from him, so obviously it is difficult for him to communicate his needs to us. And he still needs the care of a child of considerably younger age.”
Although a very sociable and loving child who enjoys hugs and cuddles, noise and being bounced about (which is totally opposite from how other children with autism can be), Amanda says he is unable to feed or dress himself and is often awake during the night.
“That is a big issue. He can be awake for hours during the night,” she said, adding that with Dale doing full-time shift work and her working 30 hours a week this could be quite a challenge.”
There was also a problem when the family went out.
“He doesn’t really like walking anywhere and we have had to get him a bigger pram,” said Amanda.
“It is also simple things like eating out. He doesn’t understand he has to sit there, so it is those kind of things we don’t really do. He is a bit big for a high chair now.
“Also, one of the hardest things is not letting him walk on the road. He has no road sense. But looking at Lewis you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with him,” she added.
But Amanda says they feel very fortunate Lewis has a place at Longridge’s Hillside Specialist School for Children with Autism, which takes children and young people from all over Lancashire, yet is on their doorstep.
She said: “Lewis goes to school full time. He loves it and the staff are absolutely brilliant. He has started communicating with picture exchange cards with people at school and at home. But there are odd words he can understand like bath time, bedtime and his name.”
Technology is also helping Lewis a lot, and Dale says he loves his iPad and can already sort out the alphabet and recognise numbers up to 100.
Amanda said: “By taking part in the project we want to promote awareness of autism. We don’t know anybody of Lewis’s age with autism. Obviously there are some others at school, but we have no friends who have children with autism.”
The “Admiring Autism” project which has more than 1,600 followers on Facebook is being supported by the National Autistic Society.