CNN Photos

Clay Lomneth knew that it might take time for 3-year-old Michaelynn to warm up to his camera.

Her parents warned him that she wasn’t usually fond of strangers.

So on his first day taking photographs at their home, Lomneth was pleasantly surprised when the nonverbal girl with autism came over to him, kneeled down in his lap and started pressing buttons on his camera.

Over the next five months, Lomneth spent much of his free time with Michaelynn and her family in Saginaw, Michigan, documenting their lives.

For the most part, Lomneth said, Michaelynn ignored him. But that was exactly what he wanted, because it allowed him to capture her personality raw and unfettered.

“For me, that was a perfect situation,” he said.

He found Michaelynn’s mom, Erica Sanchez, on Facebook after he had the idea to explore what everyday life was like for a family raising a child with…

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