When you hear the word “autistic” what kind of image pops into your head? Most of you probably think of a young child, out of control, lashing out, screaming.
Well, I can’t wait to introduce you to a little boy that will shatter all those stereotypes. His name is Dylan Jackaway. He’s five and a half years old and he knocked my socks off from the moment I met him. He has piercing blue eyes that are full of passion and dark hair.
When I arrived at the apartment he shares with his mom, Gwenyth Jackaway, he greeted me immediately and invited me to sit down at his computer with him. I couldn’t resist.
He quickly informed me he was “downloading widgets.” He proceeded to download widgets for about the next 30 minutes while I watched and interviewed his mother. During the brief time I sat with him at the computer, he reached out his hand and put it on my face to draw me in to the computer. I was shocked. My own nephews don’t even show such affection toward me. His mother explained with autistic children, the social boundaries aren’t as clear.
When mom’s interview was done, Dylan took me by the hand, walked me down the hall and into his bedroom. That’s where I made my first mistake. I stepped on his thermometer he’d built on the floor. A giant paper thermometer with markers running down the middle and temperatures along the side. He let me know what temperature it was today before we moved on to the giant subway map hanging over his bed.
He’s practically memorized the entire New York City subway grid, so I asked him how I’d get from his apartment back to my office. In seconds, he mapped out the most efficient group with hardly a glance at the map. He even told me about a tunnel I wasn’t aware of! Remember, he’s just 5 ½!!
I wish you could see his room in person. There are rainbows on the walls, and calendars with numbers everywhere, even the Fibonaci code is on display. That’s a really complicated math sequence that I had to ask Dylan to explain. Dylan prefers to read books about the human body instead of children’s books (he lectured my producer about tibias and femurs before I arrived) and he does two hand composition on the piano. His mom says he reads and writes music. Impressive!
There are some struggles too. I watched as his mom tried to coax him away from the computer to get to his afterschool program. He didn’t want to leave his widgets. Gwenyth, his mom, said that’s one of the challenges with kids who are autistic. It’s very difficult to get them to change direction and move them to a new activity because they are so focused.
Eventually, Dylan gave in and got ready to go. But as we were all leaving there was one more distraction. Dylan insisted I hear one of “favorite songs.” I was expecting something from “The Wiggles” or to something like my little niece and nephews listen. Instead, much to my surprise, Dylan instructed his mother to put on “disc 3, track 6” and I watched in amazement as a huge grin appeared on his face and an Italian Operata began to play. He told me, “I love Italian music.”
Dylan may not be what’s considered “normal” in this world, a term his mother dislikes, but he is so special in so many ways. I can’t wait for you to meet him.
We’re sharing Dylan’s story because his mother used an anonymous donor’s sperm to get pregnant, and that donor may have been carrying a gene that causes autism. FULL STORY ON CNN.COM
Turns out 3 children from that same donor are autistic, and one is showing signs of autism. It’s a fascinating story about how this happened and how these families are getting through it. Don’t miss it!
- Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent
Program note: Watch Randi's report tonight on 360° at 10p ET
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