The depth of emotion behind the words of this father demonstrates just how deep and profound a father’s love can be…

Thank you for sharing Frankie’s giggle with us.

young boy with autism playing on a swingMy autism awareness story, is one that is no different from the countless others that have been told, sadly by so many others… What makes it exceptional is the “hero” of our story… A beautiful, blue eyed, very funny little boy named Frankie, with an infectious giggle and an innocence that I would readily give my life for trying to protect. I met Kimberly, fell in love, eventually got married, bought a house, and then as the textbook dictates, started a family. I followed all the rules.

There are certain moments in my life that are a blur, and then there are those that I can relive like it was yesterday… The day we found out that she was pregnant and those feelings of love, excitement and anticipation of the next awesome chapter of our lives. Fast forward a few years, and our search for answers, “boys are always behind in speech”, “hearing tests”, “Apraxia”.  Finally at around age 3, the moment we were told by a neurologist that he was certain Frankie’s behavior was consistent with “ASD- Autism Spectrum Disorder”, I recall the moment exactly… the clouds did not part, trumpets did not sound, I just thought to myself… no kidding Sherlock… I recall the day Frankie discovered wind while taking a walk, and his giggles as this unknown force pushed against him… I recall the first time he spoke, saying “no” and shaking his head purposely, you would think that he graduated Harvard.

Fast forward to Frankie at age 9… At this stage of the game I wish I could say that I have finished mourning the loss of a “normal” life and the ease that comes with it, but that is not the case. For me I suspect it will be a lifelong process. My wife and I have been through a lot and have a long long way to go… we know this and take it day by day. We are committed to our family and doing our best. We are always happy when we rack up a “Win” such as a good day at school, a smooth transition to a new activity or our favorite… a happy silly little boy that loves to be tickled. We do not take a good day for granted. We are lucky that there are good weeks and bad days.

As this story is about Autism Awareness… Just like I can still see like it was yesterday when he shook his head and said “no”, people like me remember every act of kindness, understanding and empathy… Please consider this when you see Frankie and I or someone similar out in the world…

~story & photo submitted by Frankie’s father

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  • Lynne - I congratulate Frankie’s parents on the accepting, humble way in which they deal with Autism. Their love shines through the bad days just as Frankie’s giggle lights the way to good days. This is another wonderful, amazing story. Thank you Christine for providing this path for greater Autism awareness.04/28/2010 – 2:42 pm

  • Helen Morey Gallo - It is so heartwarming to read not only the deep love that exists within this family, but to see a letter come in from one of the dads who is fighting on behalf of their autistic child. I wish you all continued happiness, and may those moments arrive with greater and greater frequency.04/28/2010 – 5:34 pm

  • Bea - Again the love humbles me. I’m grateful to be reminded how important and impactful a simple kind word can be.04/29/2010 – 6:58 pm

  • milly - I believe that one receives a kind of strength when they are able to see acts of kindness, understanding and empathy… makes it easier for those to offer their support.

    You have a young history with an endearing child……oh the places you’ll go……04/30/2010 – 10:25 am

Faith that her child will recover has been this mother’s guiding force…

Thank you for sharing your story.

I had a beautiful, healthy baby girl on March 2nd, 2004. She was so precious and I took really good care of her. She was a happy child who made all of her milestones on time, and was interested in the world around her. On her 18 month check up, the pediatrician asked me a few routine questions, such as does she climb on chairs and does she have a 10 word vocabulary, to which my answer was no. At that point, the doctor looked at me bluntly and said, “Your child might have autism.” I was shocked. I felt the blood running out of my face. “That can’t be,” I said, “she is just a late bloomer”. The doctor suggested that I would wait for a while, and come see her again in about 3 months. When I got home that day, I called a good friend of mine, whose husband is a child psychiatrist, and he told me where I could get my child evaluated. We went through a long period of evaluations that ended up with a diagnosis of mild to moderate autism. Since the diagnosis, I’ve been working really hard with my child. Currently, she is in kindergarten in the autistic classroom, where she gets ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis.) I also do all kinds of alternative therapies with her, such as biomedical (DAN) and homeopathy. My child is improving and learning everyday. I BELIEVE THAT SHE WILL RECOVER.

~story submitted by the girl’s mother

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  • Helen Morey Gallo - Your story touches my heart; I hope with all of it that your daughter continues to heal and recover – and to find herself.04/27/2010 – 3:37 pm

  • Christie Adams Photography - I love the series you are doing on autism Christine!! The stories are all so touching and inspirational04/27/2010 – 6:38 pm

  • Sanna - So much faith, hope, and activism …. I admire this mother very much. Her daughter (and all autistic children) reap the benefits of such devoted love.04/27/2010 – 9:52 pm

  • Bea - A common thread is perseverance and hope. It’s so inspiring to read about her determination and belief.04/29/2010 – 7:02 pm

The sheer endurance and commitment of Jonathan’s mother and family is a testament to the power of hope and love.

Thank you to Jonathan’s mom  for sharing their story.

My son, Jonathan is now 16 years old. Jonathan was diagnosed with autism at an early age (1 1/2). After the initial shock of the diagnosis, my husband and I jumped right into researching therapies for him. My husband (now ex) worked for the Department of Corrections in Hudson County. He put in for a shift change (working 4-midnight) so that I could continue working full time in New York City and he could take Jonathan to all the various therapies (early intervention, ABA and speech therapy) everyday. I had to continue working because insurance benefits did not cover any of the therapies since they weren’t deemed “restorative”. If he never had speech, there was nothing to restore!

Jonathan has never been that “autistic” child that is meek and mild. He has been a firecracker since Day 1 challenging all the therapists. When something is not going his way, he is aggressive. As he got older, the aggressions, self injurious behaviors and violence continued to escalate. Needless to say, due to all the pressures of having an autistic child, my marriage broke up. I think it was because we could not do anything together. I would stay home with Jonathan, or my husband would stay home. Vacation? What was that? Our vacations consisted of renovating our house to install all safety glass windows and wood wainscoting on the walls (due to Jonathan’s kicking holes in the walls). We had to get safety glass windows because Jonathan decided one day to kick one and received 80 stitches in his leg (as well as a traumatized mother). We did try one time to go to Cape May but after two days of Jonathan trying to open the hotel door a million + times (because it had no lock from the inside), we decided to cut the trip short.

I’ve been to every doctor imaginable, trying every kind of treatment (secretin infusions, diets, holistic treatments, medications, etc). We’ve even seen a doctor that traveled in from California monthly to treat autistic children. Nothing seems to diffuse Jonathan’s behaviors. Jonathan even started having seizures (4-5 times a day) for a four month period. Turns out that the “mood stabilizer” Depakote was causing the seizures. Strange since Depakote is an anti-seizure medication. Needless to say, my marriage broke up. There was just too much tension. Even my older son didn’t want to be there. Why should he? He couldn’t have any friends over because of Jonathan’s impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Also, Jonathan’s reputation in the neighborhood was legendary. One time when I thought Jonathan was happily taking a bath and I was down in the basement doing laundry, Jonathan heard the ice cream truck music. Well, he proceeded to get out of the bath and run outside to the truck – naked! Now you have to picture this… Jonathan was overweight (due to meds), bloated and full of bruises (due to self-injuries). Needless to say Jonathan’s presence cleared the line to the truck and the stunned ice cream man gave him whatever he wanted. I was mortified and couldn’t show my face in the neighborhood for some time. Can you imagine your neighbor coming to your front door to tell you your naked son is harassing the ice cream man?

I can go on and on about these types of incidents. I’ll save that for the book I should write. In 2005, Jonathan’s aggressions became overwhelming. Everything in my house that was of any value was pretty much destroyed. Bed frames, pictures, furniture. Medications weren’t having much effect on controlling the behavior. I reached out to my school district begging for help with him. I had researched an afterschool program (New Horizons in Autism) that I thought could help. If Jonathan was busy, he was not getting into (that much) trouble. Since Jonathan’s behaviors were so severe, New Horizons would need 2 staff to take him on. Due to the expense, my school district deemed it “not necessary”. I had to reach out to a lawyer to figure out the next steps. After over a year of going back and forth (and thousands of dollars in fees), I was starting to get defeated. I couldn’t control Jonathan anymore. When my oldest son had to sit on Jonathan so that he wouldn’t attack me, I finally lost it. I called the school district to suggest possible residential treatment. That was also ignored, even after sending my case worker video of Jonathan’s tantrums. It even came to the point where the Superintendent of Special Education would not even call me back. I had to call the Superintendent of Schools to get her to return my calls. Then, even that didn’t work. I even reached out to the mayor of my town, to no avail. Finally, I was told to try to go to the members of the Board of Education. I remember sending an email around 4PM. Around 20 minutes later, the phone started ringing and the emails started coming in. The Board of Education did not know anything about my situation! They assured me that they would take care of it and quickly. They asked me to attend the following Tuesday’s board meeting. At this meeting, I was like a celebrity. Finally everyone wanted to talk to me – the case worker, Superintendent of Special Education, the Superintendent of Schools and even the school’s attorney. They all assured me that they would solve this dilemma. However, one particular board member told me that if I could, please make a speech. Since the board meetings were televised on the local cable channel, it would ensure that there would be some visibility. After what my sister calls my “Golden Globe” speech, I left the meeting in tears. Again, I was assured that they would work it out. Well the next day (which happened to be my birthday), Jonathan was approved for residential treatment at Bancroft School in Cherry Hill, NJ.

After a few weeks of getting our ducks in a row (medical reports, immunizations, etc), Jonathan was going away. I packed up his toys, blankets and everything he liked to bring to his new room. During the whole time of “checking him in”, the tears would not stop. I had to leave my baby here and trust that it was the best thing that I could do for him. Jonathan, of course, did not know what was going on. All he knew what that his parents dropped him off and left. I went home and cried, cried, cried, slept, cried, cried, cried, slept for days. I would get updates from the school a few times a day. Seems Jonathan would not eat anything substantial. He was living on cheese and some popcorn. The case worker and I together discussed the situation. You see, I wasn’t even supposed to see Jonathan for at least 2 weeks. I knew Jonathan was confused; he didn’t know what was going on. We decided that I could pick up Jonathan that Friday and take him home until Sunday to see how it goes. Of course that Friday night was a major snowstorm so it took six hours to drive there and six hours back. But I was determined to get my boy. I guess I was like a mirage to Jonathan. He never sat so still in a car before for so long. That Sunday, we brought him back to a little drama, but it was definitely better. From then on, we took Jonathan home on the weekends and brought him back on Sunday (driving 400 miles for both trips back and forth). However, it became routine and changes started happening.

Jonathan came home after 9 months a totally different child. He was 70 lbs lighter, and best of all manageable. We were able to take Jonathan places – to the pizza parlor, to the store, without panicking. Jonathan also went into the afterschool program and for the first time in his life, went to an amusement park. It’s been 3 years since he’s been “out” of residential care and things are going well. Believe me, there are moments (again I’ll save these for my book), but for the most part things are quiet. He goes to school/after school from 8:15 am and gets home at 6:30 pm). I guess he’s just too tired to cause any trouble.

So after this long winded story, the reason I am writing it. I have one “professional” picture of myself, Jonathan and my oldest son Anthony. Unfortunately, Jonathan was 7 at the time. It was taken in the break room at our local ShopRite by a photographer. After that experience, in which Jonathan set off the emergency alarm since he opened the “Don’t open unless it’s an emergency” door, I rely on his school pictures every year. I always just hope for the best when the pictures are returned.

Thanks for taking the time to read the soap opera that is my life.

~story & photo submitted by Jonathan’s mom

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  • Natalie - Thank you for sharing this story! I have worked as a behavioral specialist with children and adults with disabilities and I love that this campaign is getting out the message about what families really experience.04/26/2010 – 5:43 pm

  • Bea Boxley - I am humbled by the perseverance and love in this story.04/26/2010 – 8:56 pm

  • David - I hope I don’t offend anyone, but the image of Jonathan naked at the ice cream truck with the other children standing agape and ice cream bars flying out the window, had me rolling. The allure of ice cream has magical powers over many of us, and Jonathan evidently is no exception, suds and all. Of course other parts of the story had me in tears. This is a very touching story. I have a 5 and 7 year old and I know how exhausting raising kids can be. This journey is beyond my comprehension. Jonathan’s mom has my extreme admiration.04/26/2010 – 11:14 pm

  • Lee - With both tears and smiles I salute Johnathan’s mom. She was a fierce advocate for her son when she needed an advocate. I am so glad that she, Johnathan, and Anthony now have some peaceful times as they continue their journey with Autism. I hope she does write a book.04/27/2010 – 9:42 pm

…anyone who is thinking about booking with me, this is the time!   Book before this Saturday, May 1st and you get a complimentary $100 print credit to add on to your order, and I will donate $50 to Autism New Jersey. Also, keep looking for new autism stories this week and don’t forget to submit a comment to be entered into our free gift drawing on Friday!

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The eloquence with which this story is written exemplifies the profound and unconditional love that an aunt holds for her niece.

Thank You Aunt Renée for your sharing words, and for giving your heart.

photo of a girl with autism who has a smile as big as her heartI saw
her blank stare when I spoke to her when she was just a toddler. I was afraid to voice my thoughts. I was in tune with the fact that my sweet, beautiful, perfectly dressed little niece, with a delicate name to fit… Sara…might be autistic.

Her modeling shoots landing a Macy’s ad, her amazing intelligence, her outgoing personality, would dismiss to any onlooker that she could even possibly be autistic.

Sara’s personality is unlike the experiences I had with autistic children. I have two cousins who are autistic, and my perception of autism is probably what most people are familiar with. Glenn is a grown man who is practically non-verbal. He runs up and down the stairs in a repetitive motion. He so perfectly mimics animal sounds, and clearly recites echolalic repititions from recent conversations in the room. Then there is Brian, an overly verbal aggressive grown man. He has savant qualities. He remembers names and birthdays from 10 years prior just by a persons face. His preoccupation with cartoons and facts about history were forced on whoever was within earshot. He would speak excessively and not have consideration for others or their response. Neither of them smiled. It is obvious to the average person that Brian and Glenn are autistic. There is no need to explain to strangers when they are in public being themselves.

Explain, explain, and explain.

The road Mary and Bob travel, because it is not obvious that Sara is autistic.

Sara smiles. Sara enjoys. Sara interacts. Sara is smart. Sara plays. Sara is funny.

So when Sara is having a meltdown in public, it is rough to handle without strangers commenting, or rolling eyes, at the parents who look as if they have no control.

But because she still shares those same core autistic symptoms, she is not typical.

My 7 year old twin boys, Johnny and Ricky, are Sara’s cousins. Just recently Ricky asked me, “What is wrong with Sara? What does she have? Why is she so bad sometimes?” The first thing that popped into my mind was ‘Sara is Autistic’, but this was a little more complicated than they could understand. I responded with, “Sara has a different way of thinking than most other children. She is not bad; her brain just does not let her understand certain things as easy as yours. Some kids have trouble with math or reading, Sara has trouble understanding why she can’t have something.” They just kind of nodded in agreement. Somehow that ended their questions. They have stopped coming home and telling me how Sara acted at a family gathering. Somehow they are already getting it.

When she plays with Johnny and Ricky, Sara’s non awareness of their feelings or enjoyment confuses the boys. I know that it will take many years for them to completely understanding her autism. I like the fact that they are growing with Sara, and her personality and actions will become what Sara is, and not what autism is. They will love her and be there for her no matter what.

I must mention Sara’s little sister, Erin. Sweet as pie, and always there to jump in when Sara is having a meltdown. Her compassion kicks in at the young age of 6, and she runs to get Sara’s weighted blanket or favorite stuffed animal to help her calm down. Erin has a lot to endure as Sara’s sibling. She will always have to compromise with Sara in a way that may not always benefit her for the sake of avoiding conflict. I am sure Erin’s compassion and empathy will only continue to grow as she gets older, and that hopefully she will look back in her childhood and see what positive effects her family dynamics instilled in her.

I watched as Mary and Bob endured meetings about Sara’s behavior in school. They glided without choice down a road that took a turn they never expected for their baby. I see the hurt in my best friend’s eyes. I understand from my own personal experiences how hard it can be to visualize the future of your newborn when she is lying in your arms, just to have it twisted and turned by a diagnosis. Autism is a word that changes an entire future, a future that now holds the unknown.

Even as I write this, after 8 bumpy years, family members most likely still grasp on to inner denial that Sara and her family will be affected with autism for an entire lifetime. Autism is hard to wrap one’s mind around, but if one can wrap their heart around it, the future can be full of love.

There are countless pictures of Sara smiling. I love that she smiles, because although it may not be happiness for anyone around her, I am thrilled that she can feel it for herself.

Autism speaks… we may listen, but we do not always understand.

We love you Sara!

Aunt Renée

~story & photo submitted by aunt renée

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  • Bea - Thanks to Sara, I am learning so much about the many faces of autism. It touches me how much love there is.04/21/2010 – 7:46 pm

  • David - This story is just as verbally moving as the video in the previous entry is visually stirring….well penned.04/21/2010 – 8:26 pm

  • Lynne - The love in this story shines through the fog of autism. I am glad for Sara and her family that they have the love and understanding of a wonderful aunt.04/25/2010 – 6:25 pm

Last week, I received this video along with the second entry into my 2010 Autsm Campaign.  Please watch, it’s simply beautiful.

Thank You to Andrew’s mom for sharing his smile with us.

young boy smiling-portraits of autismAndrew is our second child. He was conceived soon after the birth of our 1st child, Brian. I always say that he was a result of the emotions we were feeling the days following September 11, 2001. We were a young family then with a 4 month old baby and we clung to one another following that life changing event. Andrew was born the following June. We bought our first house and moved out of the one bedroom apartment we were renting while I was pregnant with him. He was such a good baby. But I also remember sensing something unique in him on the day of his birth. I noted this to my husband. I saw something in his eyes and told my husband that the way he looked at me was as if he held the wisdom of a old man who had lived a lifetime, and not the newborn baby that he was. He barely cried. He was perfectly content hanging out in his basinet, which was much different than his brother who would cry until I picked him up. I am a special education teacher and was teaching in a preschool handicapped classroom while pregnant with Andrew. Many of the children that I had taught were on the Autism Spectrum, so Autism was not something I was unfamiliar with. In fact it was something I was very hyper aware of and would almost look for signs of Autism in my children out of worry. So when I would enter Andrew’s bedroom, at 3 months of age, and he would be happily kicking and cooing, totally engrossed in his mobile, I would call his name and hold my breath that he would turn his little head away from the mobile and peek through the crib bars at me. But he wouldn’t. I would tell myself that I was just being way too hyperaware. He was much too young for me to be concerned about Autism. And I would quickly put those thoughts out of my mind. Until next time when he wouldn’t turn again. I was constantly analyzing him. He would look at me and laugh like all babies did, but why did it feel like I had to work harder for his attention than I remember having to do for his older brother. Every concern I ever had was quickly put to rest by some well meaning comment from others such as, “you can’t compare”, “all children are different”.

Months went by and more red flags were there. Lack of eye contact. Not responding to his name. Few words. Loss of words he did say. I knew I had to take this to someone other than family members who would dismiss my concerns as just me being a worrying mother. So, I made his well care appointment that was meant to be his 15 month visit a month early and brought him into the office at 14 months. I started to list all of the red flags I was seeing to the doctor. We moved on to a hearing evaluation to rule that out. I called Early Intervention for an evaluation. He qualified for services. We made the appointment with the neurologist. The earliest they would see him was six months. Finally after all was said and done, my concerns were justified with the official diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder three days shy of Andrew’s 2nd birthday.

Now, at age 7 (going on 8), Andrew is still the same baby I held in my arms in June 2002. He has made great progress, but still his language is limited. He brings so much joy to us every day and makes us so proud to be his parents. We have had another child since then too. A daughter, Kaitlyn, now 2 (going on 3). Another June baby. She is doing wonderful and is Andrew’s best playmate.

Life with our three is full, complete and I wouldn’t change a thing. Autism is not always easy. But it is what it is. We work hard every day to help Andrew reach his full potential. We love and accept him for who he is completely.

~story, photo, & video submitted by Andew’s mom

Please be sure to leave a comment below…simply by doing so you’ll be spreading love, and helping to raise awareness.

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  • molly - Tears began to flow as I recalled my son at that age…….so beautiful, innocent, gentle…..04/20/2010 – 8:45 am

  • Maria - This video made ME smile too…he is beautiful!04/20/2010 – 10:08 am

  • Helen Morey Gallo - Crying, happy, sad, hopeful all at once. XOXO04/20/2010 – 11:06 am

  • kimbrali - what a beautiful boy!04/20/2010 – 2:00 pm

  • David - this video is beyond words…
    andrew is part of a very special family04/21/2010 – 1:12 am

  • Bea - My day is brighter seeing Andrew’s smile.04/21/2010 – 7:42 pm

  • Denise - You are an amazing mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin, Godmother, teacher….but most importantly to me – an amazing friend. You have the ability to touch so many lives with your words – the words spoken from your heart that you live by each day. God bless you- Andrew, and all of your family! Love you!05/04/2010 – 8:15 pm

  • Kate - Wow I love that kid….laughing through tears-my favorite emotion. He is so lucky to have you all as his family. I’m proud to call you my friends.05/04/2010 – 8:17 pm

Early last week I received this entry into my 2010 Autsm Campaign, my first official entry.  I just want to give a special thanks to Nicky’s mom for sharing their story.

Her last paragraph is especially true and poignant.  It reminds me just how I feel about my little brother Paul.

photo of young boy with autism from entry 1

My son Nicky has always been a very special little boy. Ever since he was a baby, people have responded to his big, blue eyes and sweet disposition. I always took pride in his laid back demeanor. Other children would take toys from him and he’d hand them over without fuss. I thought he’d inherited his father’s neat streak when he started lining up his little cars just so. His love of books and ability to memorize letters and stories at a very young age was just astounding. His speech came early and he was walking within the normal developmental parameters.

It wasn’t until after his third birthday, when I was pregnant with my daughter, that I started to think something wasn’t quite right. He was frequently jumping up and down, flapping his hands, galloping back and forth and making strange sounds. Friends and family thought nothing of it. “Little kids do strange things sometimes,” they said. But I’d heard those same sounds and seen those same behaviors in another beautiful little boy who lived across the street. A boy that had recently been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The hardest part of this whole journey was deciding if we needed to seek help. I felt guilty for thinking my son was different or possibly disabled. If most of my friends and family thought he was fine, why didn’t I think so too? But his speech development had plateaued and when Nicky’s preschool teachers voiced concern that he didn’t seem interested in playing with his peers, I decided to have him evaluated.

Nicky was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) a little over a year ago. Now he’s in a special education program in our school district and receiving the therapies he needs. He’ll be entering kindergarten next year and we’ve recently seen big improvements in his speech and social interactions. Those mini steps forward feel like parades-and-fireworks-worthy accomplishments.

On the harder days, I try to remember what a wonderful friend once told me. Nicky will always be that same sweet, smart, special kid I’ve known all along. A diagnosis doesn’t change that.

~story & photo submitted by Nicky’s mom

Please be sure to leave a comment below…simply by doing so you’ll be spreading love, and helping to raise awareness.

~Find Out About The Campaign~

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  • Nicky's mom - Thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to share Nicky’s story and for helping to shine a light on Autism.04/18/2010 – 8:28 pm

  • Jessica - This is such a beautiful story and a beautiful boy.04/19/2010 – 6:38 am

  • Sanna - A most touching story ….. I am glad that Nicky’s mom shared it. He is a beautiful child and her positive attitude is also beautiful and makes all the more possible for him.04/19/2010 – 11:20 am

  • Bea Boxley - It’s so wonderful to see the positive side reflected in the eyes of this precious boy. I’m so glad Nicky’s story was shared.04/20/2010 – 6:10 pm

  • Penny Leverman - These are all touching stories. The children and their families are all special. Keep speaking to autism, we are listening.04/27/2010 – 2:28 pm

A beautiful little girl with a precious smile and a gorgeous selection of dresses gave this portrait session a touch of elegance.  Her mother is a dancer and by the looks of it, this darling girl is following in mom’s footsteps…

Child Portrait of a beautiful girl in an elegant blue dress

Portrait of a sweetly smiling little girl in a white lace dress

Studio portrait of a sweet little girl in a beautiful purple flowered dress

And look at these beautiful brown eyes and winning smile…big brother was on the move, but we managed to capture some treasures!

Adorable brown-eyed boy in blue polo shirt posing for a studio portrait

Black and white studio portrait of an adorable little boy

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  • Leslie - Beautiful Christine!!04/18/2010 – 5:19 pm

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