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Autism Awareness Month

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April is Autism Awareness Month and tomorrow, April 2, Autism Awareness Day. Autism Speaks, the largest autism science-and-advocacy organization in the U.S., estimates that 67 million people worldwide live with the condition, which remains the fastest-growing developmental disability in the world -- affecting 1 out of every 110 children. Recent efforts in early detection and educational intervention have shown encouraging results, bringing a measure of hope to often difficult family situations. Relatives and caretakers of those with autism will tell you that it can be both the most frustrating and the most rewarding work of their lives. My only brother is autistic, and my family and I know these difficulties and rewards well. He's an adult now, living happily in a group home much like the one featured in the final four photos below by Kevin Wellenius. For further information, visit advocacy groups Autism Speaks or Autism Society. Many thanks to the families and photographers who are sharing their personal, intimate photos here today. [29 photos]

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Maria, the daughter of Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo is seen in this image from a 2010 documentary film titled Maria y Yo (Maria and I). Gallardo's sketches over 12 years led to a comic book explaining everyday life with his autistic daughter and its challenges. The film tracks the relationship between Maria, Miguel and his ex-wife May, and how they have learned to cope with Maria's disability. (Reuters/Bausan Films and Pelis Chulas)
Maria, the daughter of Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo is seen in this image from a 2010 documentary film titled Maria y Yo (Maria and I). Gallardo's sketches over 12 years led to a comic book explaining everyday life with his autistic daughter and its challenges. The film tracks the relationship between Maria, Miguel and his ex-wife May, and how they have learned to cope with Maria's disability. (Reuters/Bausan Films and Pelis Chulas)
Mother and son. Flickr member smithereen11 shares this photo of his wife Heather and son Corin - "Those two are very much in love. The shot was taken just after my wife had had her hair done and the light was pouring through our sliding door just perfect so I grabbed my camera and this was the result. The two of them are like boyfriend and girlfriend in front of the camera so it's actually quite easy to get cool and interesting pictures of them. It's not the usual 'Oh, Mom...' kind of mother/son relationship. Corin is very much like a big kindergartner. He still loves to be close to Mom." Original photo here. smithereen11) #
Mother and father Dawn and Nick Soefje stay with their daughter Trinity, age 4, as she prepares for an MRI scan of her brain to look for possible causes for her autism in 2005. Photographer and father Nick Soefje: "Trinity is now 9 and doing excellent in school, plays with friends and fights with her younger brother. At that time, we were in the early years of autism discovery and were having an MRI done to see if there were any physical issues with her brain. The MRI came back fine". Original photo here. Nick Soefje) #
Grace Brown-Griffin, 10, sits with her support dog Merlin during the final of the Crufts 'Friends for Life' competition at the 2011 Crufts dog show in the National Exhibition Center on March 13, 2011 in Birmingham, England. Grace is autistic and suffers from ADHD, the presence of Merlin helps her to cope with stressful situations. The pair were finalists in the Crufts Friends for Life competition which recognizes dogs which are able to assist their owners through bravery, support or companionship. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images) #
Todd Washburne, left, who is autistic, gets help from his mother, Gloria, as he testifies with a voice computer during a public hearing on the proposed state budget cuts to health and human services in Montpelier, Vermont on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008. Washburne was fearful of cuts in programs that he gets support from. (AP Photo) #
Ethan Johnson, left, finds Elliot, right, in the closet while playing hide and seek at Elliot's home on November 19th in Eagan, Minnesota. Both boys have autism and their play dates are part of therapy that teaches them to interact with other children. This photo was originally part of a story in the Minnesota Daily: Treating Autism. Original photo here. Jules Ameel) #
An autistic child looks out from behind a chair at the Consulting Center for Autism in Amman, Jordan on March 30, 2010, one of the few places in the country that helps children with the condition. (Reuters/Ali Jarekji) #
Competitive surfer Candice Appleby, of Honolulu, Hawaii, teaches a young autistic boy how to surf at Alii Beach Park in Haleiwa, Hawaii, on the North Shore of Oahu, Friday, March 2, 2007. Professional surfers from Hawaii and California spent the day teaching dozens of autistic children in a one-day surf camp sponsored by Surfers Healing, a group founded by former professional surfer Israel Paskowitz after he noticed the calming effect the ocean had on his own autistic son. The surf camps, which are free for autistic children and their families, are held in Hawaii, California, and New York. (AP Photo/Carol Cunningham) #
Mary Bennett keeps an eye on her son Michael, 11 in their living room on Tuesday March 2, 2010 in Irmo, South Carolina. Michael is autistic and unable to dress himself, use a bathroom or communicate. Bennett may soon face the most difficult choice of her life as a single parent: give up her job or institutionalize Michael. A possible state spending plan would eliminate spending on any non-residential program for people with disabilities. Bennett is only able to work because the state cares for her son part of the day. (AP Photo/Anne McQuary) #
Vell Baria, a girl with autism, is made up inside a washroom before she performs in Autismusical, a free public concert sponsored by a mall as a venue for individuals who have autism to showcase their different talents as well as to highlight world autism awareness day, inside a mall in Quezon City, Metro Manila on April 2, 2009. (Reuters/John Javellana) #
Therapist Madelen Fernandez and a disabled child swim with a dolphin at the Cuba's National Aquarium in Havana, Wednesday, April 11, 2007. Dolphins, sea tortoises and sea lions at Cuba's National Aquarium have been helping children with special needs, such with autism, Down Syndrome or mental retardation, increasing both their independence and sociability. (AP Photo/ Javier Galeano) #
Parker Leiby, an autistic child, views a movie during a demonstration of the magnetoencephalography, MEG for short, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Friday, Nov. 28, 2008, in Philadelphia. MEG is a noninvasive technology used to study unique brain wave patterns spotted for the first time in autistic children which may help explain why they have so much trouble communicating. (AP Photo/ Joseph Kaczmarek) #
Quinn & his ducks. Mother and photographer Nancy Price: "We thought the way he was always lining up toys was just a quirky thing he liked to do... but later realized it was a very strong indicator that he had autism. Note: Someone pointed out that he has the ducks positioned in a Fibonacci sequence here - 1, 1, 2, 3. After looking at some other photos, we saw that he has used various types of non-random patterns with his stacking, aligning and drawing." Original photo here. Nancy Price / Autism Effect) #
Shayan Forough works on writing letters during Applied Behavior Analysis therapy with instructor Miri Volchegorsky at the child's home Monday, Oct. 6, 2008, in Kirkland, Washington. At the time, Shayan's parents were paying more than $1,000 a week for the therapy for their 12-year-old autistic son. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson) #
An autistic child attends a music class at the Dora Alonso Center for autistic children in Havana, Cuba on February 11, 2008. (REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa) #
Photographer and father Jason Wilkie, on this portrait of his son: "Inside that mind. I wish I could see at times. I think it would be fascinating to know what goes on in there." Original photo here. Jason Wilkie) #
Austin Boyd, an 8-year-old with autism, bounces on his parent's bed at their home Friday, April 20, 2008 in Port Charlotte, Florida. Because Austin has a developmental disorder not covered by insurance, the Boyd family has spent years waiting for help from Medicaid. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius) #
U.S. couple John and Maggie Davies and their daughter Qiongjian, severely disabled by cerebral palsy and autism, who they adopted as an abandoned local baby girl in 1997 and eventually set up the Bright Connection center in Sanya, on October 26, 2009 in China's southernmost island province of Hainan. The center was set up in 2004 by the couple from Colorado who moved to the sub-tropical island in the mid-1990's as consultants for its booming hotel industry but were moved by what they saw as the huge needs of local disabled children and they now care for and provide therapy for up to 25 children with cerebral palsy, autism, or both. Some are orphans given up by parents daunted by the challenge of raising them while others come from local orphanages. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images) #
Father and photographer Lance Neilson: "This is my son Tyler (age six now), after having a 'freak out' session after I messed up the order of events for his routine after school. I'm a single parent of 2, and grandpa helps A LOT. Tyler has an attachment to grandpa, because he is there all the time due to my work schedule and side business. This is one of the most amazing children. From when he was diagnosed when he was 2, I was told he may not be able to tie his shoe, or even use the bathroom. He currently is reading at a first grade level, attempting to write words by pronunciation, and wires electrical outlets on a special board my father made for him, not connected to a current of course. He's higher functioning now than he was first diagnosed, and my life is so much more wonderful every day". Original photo here. Lance Neilson) #
Photographer Glenn Cantor: "This is Logan and Juke. Logan is an 11-year-old boy who lives in Unalakleet Alaska and has autism. After a visit by musher DeeDee Jonrowe several years ago, he spoke one of his first words, "Miyagi" (the name of one of DeeDee's sled dogs). It became obvious how strong an impact dogs had on Logan, and the idea came up to get a service dog for Logan, a dog who could receive and give unconditional love and companionship. DeeDee organized a group of other mushers who tirelessly raised funds to get Logan a trained dog from a group called 4 Paws for Ability in Ohio. Many people and companies pitched in, including Eagle Pack, a dog food company, and Northern Air Cargo, who flew Juke and the dog food to Unalakleet, which is many hundreds of miles from the nearest road". Original photo here. Glenn Cantor) #
Ronnie Arloff smiles as he reacts to 'Kaspar' the robot as he takes part in research project, in Hatfield, England on Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Autistic children play with the robot for up to 10 minutes alongside a scientist who controls the robot with a remote control. Kaspar is programmed to do things like smile, frown, laugh, blink and wave his arms. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) #
An autistic child learns to speak next to his teacher during a therapy session at a school for autistic children in Tianjin municipality March 31, 2010. (Reuters/Vincent Du) #
From left, Andrea Levy, 13, Elias Cazares Jr., 13, and Hadiya Allen, 13 practice cooperation and good sportsmanship by playing a game during PEERS class at the University of California, Los Angeles on June 10, 2009. The 14-week course helps autistic teens build social skills. Many people with autism spectrum disorders want to develop meaningful relationships, but lack the know-how of slipping into a conversation or deciphering body language and facial expressions, social scientists say. (AP Photo/Kim Johnson Flodin) #
Jacob Day, 3, who is autistic, studies a flash card held by his instructional assistant at his home in Antelope, California, on April 24, 2007. At 18 months old, Jacob was formally diagnosed with autism, about a year earlier than usual. Before he turned 2, he began daily intensive behavior treatment designed to help him lead a more normal life. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) #
A mother helps her autistic son correct his direction in a relay race during a therapy session at the Stars and Rain School for autistic children in Beijing, China on March 23, 2009. China now has about 100 schools for autistic children, many of them NGOs that send their teachers to Stars and Rain to learn from its model. Some provinces have also begun to set up state-backed schools, in a sign that autism, known in Chinese as "lonely syndrome" is finally getting recognition. Picture taken March 23, 2009. (Reuters/Jason Lee) #
(1 of 4) Since 1984, Curt Brown (standing) has been a foster parent to several adult men with autism, living with them in his home in Gardiner, Maine. He has forged a deep familial bond with many of the residents, but the commitment has also come at the expense of other goals, including personal relationships. As he turned 65, Curt confronted what lay ahead for him, as well as for the seven men living with him. Here, a group evening meal is emblematic of the family environment Curt has created for his residents. Around the table are (clockwise from left) Graham Weston, Ben Brendahl, Lee Calderwood, Keith Keller, Aaron Bridgham, Timmy Barton, and John Williamson. Kevin Wellenius) #
(2 of 4) After finishing the evening chores, Curt rests briefly as Graham Weston, a resident since 1994, stands at his customary spot in the kitchen. "It's a lot of years," Curt says. While there have been many theories about how best to provide for adults with autism, "ultimately what we found was the most successful was making a cohesive family unit... and treating everybody as a valid family member," says Curt. Kevin Wellenius) #
(3 of 4) "I love you," Curt says to Aaron after moving his belongings to a new home. In addition to Aaron, three of the other residents moved to a new home in Rome, Maine. The three remaining residents continue to live at Curt's home in Gardiner, but its operation has been taken over by an agency. Kevin Wellenius) #
(4 of 4) Lee Calderwood (left) and Curt Brown hug in the living room of Curt's home in Gardiner, Maine. "It's a life pretty full of love," says Curt. "Who gets to say 'good night' and 'I love you' to two or three or four people every single night of the week?" Kevin Wellenius) #

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