For the last two years, Spanish photographer José Antonio de Lamadrid has quietly documented the daily lives of the Morillo Aguilar triplets; three 18-year-old boys at various stages on the autism spectrum. The Morillo Aguilar boys, Álvaro, Jaime and Alejandro, will likely never live independently, and rely on one another to navigate the world around them.
Lamadrid, whose own nephew is autistic, met the Morillo Aguilar triples through his volunteer work at Autismo Sevilla, a non-profit that offers support for parents of autistic children. “I thought that by taking pictures of these three, it would help people understand more about the illness,” says Lamadrid. “Although they are dependent on their family, it is possible for them to live normal and happy lives.”
It’s estimated that autism affects over 2 million Americans and tens of millions worldwide. As with the three brothers, symptoms vary depending on where a person falls on the autism spectrum.
Since he has the most normal social abilities, Jamie is the spokesperson for the three boys, and has a startling intelligence for trivia. “If you give him a random date, like May 2, 2001, he can very quickly tell you if that was a Friday or Saturday,” says Lamadrid. “He is the voice of the children and will often represent the three.”
Alejandro speaks significantly less than Jamie, but has his own unique skill of putting together entire 1,000 piece puzzles in only a couple hours. Alvaro, who has significant brain damage hardly ever speaks, but he still enjoys watching movies with his brothers. Although the three boys arelegal adults now, Lamadrid says they have the mental state of three-year-olds.
Lamadrid says the three boys are some of his favorite–and most cooperative—subjects to photograph. Whether the boys are getting dressed for the day in matching outfits or riding the public bus through Sevilla, Lamadrid says they never questioned his constant trailing as he snapped pictures. “They allowed me to be in their life, and didn’t care about me or my camera,” he says. “They’re the subjects all photographers want to have in their life.”
The mother of the three boys, Noelia Aguilar, stuck out the most to Lamadrid during his work. “I was stunned by her,” says Lamadrid. “She is really trying to give them a normal life. Both parents are taking care of them on their own and they know when to push them and when to stop and listen.”
Through his photos of the triplets, Lamadrid hopes he will spur greater support from the Spanish government and autism organizations for families like the Morillo Aguilars. “I’ve learned that despite the condition, this family lives very positively,” says Lamadrid. “Every day is quite hard for them, but they go to bed happy.”
Alexandra Sifferlin is a writer and producer for TIME Healthland.