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The landscape looks familiar on the way to the Lawrence’s house in rural Utah. The mountains, farms, and trees are backdrops to many now-famous photos featuring eighteen-month-old Wil — a toddler that seems to have a special skill.
"We have signs on the road — ‘Careful for Flying Babies,'" Alan Lawrence joked.
Lawrence, a professional photographer, is the creator of the photo series"“Wil Can Fly." The inspirational images have taken off online, but it wasn’t always so easy for Alan to share photos of his son after Wil was diagnosed with Down syndrome.
"When the doctor told us [Wil] had Down syndrome, I was pretty selfish about it,” Lawrence remembered. “I was dwelling on the things that were out of my control.” He stopped, struggling to speak. “I feel bad saying this, but I felt like he would be a burden to our family.”
Alan’s wife, Nikki, said she had never seen her husband so emotional.
"I just had to say, buddy, we will deal with what comes our way, but right now he's healthy, he's happy, he's beautiful," she said. "Let's just enjoy him."
After the Lawrences brought Wil home from the hospital, his family noticed a funny habit: Wil loved to lay on his stomach and stretch his arms and legs like he was trying to lift off.
"Being a photographer, I thought it'd be fun one day to go outside and do a picture of him flying," Alan said. "And then post it to Facebook to our family and friends and say, 'Hey guys, Wil finally took off! He's flying around the yard. We can't get him to go to bed.'"
That picture delighted Lawrence’s family, who began sharing it with an ever-increasing circle of people. Alan took more photos, and those went viral, too.
"That's the beautiful thing, is seeing this message go out all over the world," he said. “And to hear the other families are feeling the same way and to just know that other families are enjoying the journey, too."
Every time Alan posts a picture of Wil “flying” on his Instagram page or blog, thatdadblog.com, he receives thousands of comments from people touched by the message behind the images.
"Initially, I felt like [Wil] was going to limit our family, and he's opened the door to so many other new adventures and experiences," Lawrence said.
"It might be a harder journey for him, but he can do anything he wants to do," Nikki said. "He can fly!"