A New Jersey photographer and mom of three is celebrating the beauty in kids with Down syndrome through her beautiful portraits.
Back in October, Julie Willson gathered together 11 children with Down syndrome and captured their spirits in a series of photos. Their families had responded to the photographer's call for kids with Down syndrome ages 0 to 5, and some traveled as long as three or four hours to participate.
Willson drew inspiration for the photo series from her sister Dina. "Dina was born in 1975 with Down syndrome and was the absolute light of our family," she told The Huffington Post, adding that her sister passed away in January 2011 from congestive heart failure.
"Photographing these 11 kids brought back so many great memories of my sister," Willson said. "I'm really hoping that through my photos, we can change the way some people perceive Down syndrome."
Since creating this series, the photographer has received a lot of positive feedback. "Seeing how viral the photos have gone and how much attention our photos have received, it made me realize that more awareness needed to be raised for kids with Down syndrome," she said.
"Unfortunately, we've learned that not much has changed since my sister was born 40 years ago. My parents were offered and recommended to put my sister in a 'home,'" Willson recalled. "Today, parents receiving their child's diagnosis during pregnancy are often offered to terminate their pregnancy due to Down syndrome and those receiving the diagnosis after birth are told of all the negatives of their child's future instead of the positives."
"Through Nothing Down, we are hoping to show the world all of the positives of kids with Down syndrome through photo and video projects," she explained.
"Michael is 2 years old and is the best thing that has ever happened to me and my family. From the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed at night, he has a constant smile on his face. He loves Mickey Mouse and loves to dance and play ball! Every time he hears music, he dances. Even in his car seat, in the car, he's constantly moving to whatever comes on the radio!"
"Alexa is full of energy, running around with her brothers like any other 5-year-old. We admire her for her strength and her determination. She doesn’t listen to what she can’t do and she makes everything seem possible. Her smile alone is one that brings you joy in an instant. We continue to be amazed at what she has overcome and how she has beaten such great odds. No one looks at her and sees Down syndrome. They look at her as a beautiful little girl who is ready to take on the world."
"There is so much about Aiden that has brought our family joy and it's hard to put it into words. His smile alone is enough to melt your heart. The constant love that he shows us is beyond words. Watching him achieve each milestone is amazing knowing that he has to work harder to get there."
"Tristan has rocked our world in ways we never knew were possible! Tristan is intelligent, persistent, strong willed, and knows what he wants. He loves to eat and dance! He also is very healthy and capable of anything he sets his mind to. He never gives up and he is fearless. His favorite person is his 5-year-old brother, Jael, who is his protector, playmate, and best friend. The love between the two of them is the most beautiful and special love that I have ever seen. He is loved by so many people, and he has brought our family closer."
"Olivia is a crazy, trouble-making, opinionated, smart, funny and beautiful toddler. She is more active than her brothers ever were and keeps me on my toes every minute. Her brothers love her and thank me for giving them a baby sister. Early intervention services started as soon as she came home from the hospital and I believe have made a huge difference in her. We have two wonderful support groups that have activities for the children and siblings, parent events that we enjoy going to where we spend time with other families helping us learn what else we can do to help Olivia reach her full potential."
"Zach is a fighter. He wasn’t expected to make it through the pregnancy, yet he did. He is not even remotely the child that the doctors predicted he would be. He is happy, engaging and so loving. He’s always ready with a hug or snuggle."
"When Carly was first born, our family mourned the loss of 'the normal child' we were planning on, however we quickly realized that Carly was exactly the normal that we needed. She lights up a room, has a contagious smile, and amazes everyone around her day in and day out. Carly teaches us all to be more compassionate and more inspired. She never gives up, always tries her best and is determined to keep learning new things."
"Kennedy’s happiness in life is so admirable. From the second she opens her eyes to the minute she closes them, she brings nothing but joy to everyone she meets. She can make a bad day better. Kennedy has physical therapy twice a month and a special instructor once a week. It is unbelievable how driven she is. She never cries, whines or fusses during her therapies."
"Robby is cute and adorable, extremely loving, unbelievably cuddly, sweet, and playful. He has eyes that are as breathtaking as the ocean and a smile that is so contagious, it lights up the room! He makes us so proud to be his parents. Every time he meets a milestone it’s a celebration. He loves to spend time with us, sit with us and read books, play drums, reach for our electronics, play with blocks, and so much more. We can’t imagine life without him."
"Raegan is the most loving baby, sweet, funny and affectionate. Her strong will and sweet spirit is a combination that’s hard to ignore. Her teenage siblings, Gabe and Mackenzie, absolutely adore their little sister and melt when she smiles."
"Our Finnegan has such a tender, sweet heart. He takes in everything around him with such a zest for every moment. I think one of our favorite things about Finnegan is when we watch him play; he smiles and laughs without prompting, just enjoying himself so much in the moment. He has a purity about him and a certain wisdom in his eyes. He loves with his whole heart, full force, completely and tirelessly."