The kids' stories send an inspiring message about inclusivity. 

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April 17, 2019

Every April, National Autism Awareness Month promotes autism awareness, autism acceptance, and aims to draw attention to the tens of thousands facing an autism diagnosis each year. Specifically, about one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. To celebrate these kids, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Marcus Autism Center, which is one of the largest autism centers in the U.S. and one of only five National Institutes of Health (NIH) Autism Centers of Excellence, and its affiliated Camp You B You created an inspiring photo series. The series highlights patients who have embraced their unique qualities and formed friendships thanks to the progress they've made through their work with the center.

Here, several of the kids featured and their touching stories.

Three-year-old Chloe is nonverbal and recently graduated from Marcus Autism Center Language and Learning Center. She started visiting with a dog named Flip when he would visit the resource center every month. According to the Center, Chloe would light up when she saw him and get upset when it was time to leave. “Chloe is nonverbal and to me, her and Flip speak the same language,” her mother Karen shared. “She doesn’t say anything but Flip seems to understand exactly what she needs.” Towards the end of her treatment, she was practicing communicating and requesting items and activities; visiting with Flip was one of the things she could request. Flip became a motivation to help Chloe learn how to communicate with others.

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Fifteen-year-old Sean had struggled socially, but attended Marcus Autism Center’s Camp You B You, he’s made solid friendships with fellow video gamers at school. With his friends’ support, Sean’s mother Kristen said, “He is more understanding and accepting of who he is as he is.”

 

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Three-year-old Nigel was diagnosed when he was 1. He went through a variety of therapies, according to the center, and now he's been called the "mayor of preschool." He developed empathy in his work at Marcus. "He’s starting to care for other kids and all the other emotions that come with it," his dad, Zack, explained. “When he does something that makes me sad, he immediately changes his mind and comes and consoles me.” His mom Jenny explained that he and his older sister have grown closer, as well: “They love to chase each other back and forth. Now they listen to each other and their conversations are so much fun to experience.”

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Bobby was diagnosed 11 years ago. He had been dealing with meltdowns caused by what he described as a "traffic jam in his head." But his work at Camp You B You has helped him developed social skills and make friends he calls family and who encourage one another to make friends with people who are different than they are.

 

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Noah and therapy dog Flip have been inseparable since they first met at Marcus Autism Center. “The difference in his behavior and demeanor when Flip is in the room is amazing,” says Noah’s mom Angela explained. “It’s so calm and loving.” The experience inspired the family to raise money to get a service dog for Noah.

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These inspiring images are sure to go well beyond raising awareness this April. The Marcus Autism Center hopes that these kids' stories "will show that friendship has no limits when we celebrate inclusivity and embrace our differences."