Editor’s note: This is the second piece in a series about Western North Carolina children and adults living with autism. Read about an Asheville program offering social activities to local people with autism, a proposed bill that would, if passed, require all North Carolina insurers to pay for the diagnosis and treatment of autism and consult a list of resources for more information and help.

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Over the past several months, photojournalist Mike Belleme has spent many hours going to gatherings held by The Spectrum, an Asheville-based nonprofit that offers social outings and opportunities for children and adults living with autism. From technology groups and cooking group and urban outings and after-school programs, the groups have one thing in common: they’re all about having fun.

It’s a space where they can be who they are, said Becca Wilson, a 16-year-old Fletcher resident and is a participant in the after-school program. “Truthfully, I’d rather go to something like this rather than going to a party,” she said. “That’s what we wanted,” said Michele Lemell, parent to another girl in the program. “A safe space.”

Read the whole story here about The Spectrum, how many children in Western North Carolina are living with a form of autism, and what parents and volunteers say about the power of fun in these children’s lives.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this photo essay reported that Chris Fryar was a staff member with The Spectrum. He and Patrick McCormick are filmmakers who partnered with The Spectrum to offer “Autoism,” a media initiative focusing on autism and technology.

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Mike Belleme is a contributing photographer for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at mike@mikebelleme.com.

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