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April 2nd, 2008
09:26 PM ET

Autism: Shattering stereotypes

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

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?


Filed under: Autism • Randi Kaye
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Kate

    As you say though, it is important that people not think of Autism as being in only one or another state. It is a huge spectrum. Dylan sounds like a savant, which not all autistic kids are. As a mother of a high-functioning autistic child, it can be daunting when society looks at our daughter and expects her to act a certain way but she cannot. Yes, she can talk with you and is very friendly but she is also very easily frustrated, does not like changing activities and has a hard time socializing with her peers. Thank you for bringing to light yet another face of this awful spectrum.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:36 am |
  2. Tammy

    This PhD agrees with the other PhD (who also has an MD). After watching the program, this child seems gifted more than autistic. Parents are too quick to label their kids in an attempt to fix them. And the counseling, psychological, educational, and medical professions are all too willing to enable this need for a quick fix and diagnosis (ADHD, depression, and autism are cases in point). Dylan seems highly intelligent more than anything else. Maybe I missed some dianostic criteria watching himand I have not interviewed the child and observed him in person, but autistic is the last thing I'd call him based on what I saw. I've taught austic kids and worked with them at various ends of the spectrum. I've also taught and worked with gifted kids. I think I'd take this child and have him reassessed. If he were mine, I'd never slap the label autistic on a boy that intelliegent and gifted unless three independent and qualified assessors all came to the exact same conclusion by using appropriate diagnostic testing methods. And for the record, gifted kids are often hyperfocused and some kids are just more affectionate with complete strangers than others. Just my random thoughts and experiences, but I wouldn't be so quick to label every kid autistic who shows a few symptoms (that don't necessarily mean autism), doesn't fit the "norms" of childhood, and is hyper intelligent.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:31 am |
  3. silicablue

    Oh, and just one more thought. To Caryn Papish:
    Sometimes, in the grand scheme of things, a discovery is deemed so important that the attention of even the dullest of intellects need have their attention directed to it.

    April 3, 2008 at 11:19 am |
  4. Joanne Wiels

    Why do people feel the need to blame someone or something if their kids don't meet the definition of what they think should be "normal"?
    Who's to say what's normal?

    Millions of people have taken vaccines and not developed autism – look at autism rates in countries where they don't get vaccines. It's pretty high. Genetics? Maybe but kids can inherit a lot of things.

    Cures? Recovery? Sure diets and other strategies may work for some, maybe not for others. No major studies have shown any thing (sorry Jenny McCarthy, your experience with your son is great but hardly scientific proof.)

    Bottom line. HAving and raising kids is challenging. It's a whole lot easier if you don't expect them to be perfect or have unreasonable definitions of "normal." Love them for who they are. Be there for them. Work with them. Seek out resources if you can't do it alone. But put the blame away.

    ,

    April 3, 2008 at 10:56 am |
  5. pam

    What I see in the video and the story is a profounded gifted child. We're looking at a boy that is smarter that 99.99% of the population. He is going to process information differently. He is going to be taking in information all the time using all his senses. This can cause sensory over load and you will see sensory intergration issues like hand flapping. But having the physical quirks that are common in Autism and Aspergers does not equal Autism and Aspergers.

    Parent of 3 profoundly and exceptionly gifted children

    April 3, 2008 at 10:15 am |
  6. Cathy C

    The number of Autistic children has grown so quickly in the last 20 years. Has any research been done as to the number of Austistic children conceived when the mother used fertility drugs? What is the percent vs children conceived naturally? I have 5 friends who used fertility drugs, and 3 have Austistic children. Two very mild. One severe. Just won

    April 3, 2008 at 10:09 am |
  7. silicablue

    WOW. From a scientific point of view, this is huge. Has anyone looked for a genetic link in relation to autism before? The Donor "X" sperm that's left should be studied along with "Donor X" and his bloodline and their place of residence now and as far back as can be traced. This creates so many questions in my mind. such as: Can autism be passed from mother to child or only from father to child? Does "Donor X" show any signs of autistic behavior? Do any of his relatives? This story opens a new road to travel down in the search for answers leadingg to the roots of autism. Good job to all invloved.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:55 am |
  8. Jeff

    It is scary to me to read the comments below of Tom Waite, a medical professional:

    "This kid simply does not fit the definition of autism, and should never have been diagnosed as such. He just doesn’t meet any of the criteria."

    I have a 5-year old son with autism, and even the most basic understanding of autism comes with the notion that it is a SPECTRUM disorder. There is not a "typical definition". While I agree in some cases with Dr. Waite's general theory that we may overdiagnose in certain cases – as we do with many other diseases in today's society, especially in this country – we cannot afford to classify cases of this complex disorder as "typical" and "non-typical".

    One thing that is increasingly clear to me is that we will not make the progress that we need to in understanding this disorder if we can't get the medical community in it's entirety to breaking down old stereotypes (autism is more than just Dustin Hoffman's character in 'Rainman') and coming to the table open-minded to help resolve it.

    I want to THANK CNN for yesterday's session. Raising autism awareness is critical to building broader support for solutions. People need to understand that this problem is real. It is likely that you know someone who has been touched by this disorder, and the reality is that these people will need expensive services for years – and in many cases throughout their lives.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:44 am |
  9. amy

    hey xnmby,

    i bet if you asked dylan to sit down and tell you an original story using gestures, or to identify the emotions that someone was feeling by looking at their face, he'd have a tough time. or if you tried to get him to actually have a back-and-forth conversation with you and follow your leads instead of reporting on opera or subways. *that* is why someone is diagnosed with asperger's: no language deficit, but communication deficits combined with unusual, all-encompassing interests and difficulty understanding social rules (like not putting your hand on a stranger's face).

    so highlight his strengths all you want, but don't invalidate the difficulty that people with asperger's (or autism) and their families experience. if anything, it can be tougher because people hear children talk and assume they must be brilliant and know how to behave, then don't understand why they might have a meltdown if it's time to leave the computer.

    April 3, 2008 at 9:39 am |
  10. Ken H.

    I feel bad the child was born autistic. I have an autistic nephew who I love very much, but his parents had normal relations to conceive him. This little boys mom went to a sperm bank. Why on earth would any woman have someone's sperm put into her when she doesn't even know the person. This kind of thing makes me sick. Jackaway decided on "Donor X" because he appeared philosophical and intelligent on paper. He liked music, loved to travel and had a high IQ and a degree in economics. Very disturbing if you ask me.

    April 3, 2008 at 8:29 am |
  11. Joeymom

    Wow, what a great kid. I wonder how much of this my child could do if he didn't have trouble with the communication piece. It still disturbs me how many people believe my child is stupid because he cannot speak normally.

    There is a mom in my neighborhood with an Asperger's child, and we laugh (and cry) a lot at the differences in our children's treatment. Because her child speaks very well, he is in mainstream classes and gifted classes, even though he he has severe social issues that make him far less able to function in a classroom than my son, whose main problem is speaking, and so is in a self-contained classroom!

    April 3, 2008 at 7:54 am |
  12. Jeff & Jian Grant

    My wife read the story about Dylan and called me immediately at work to read the blog because our 5 1/2 year old son also has the same form of highly functional mild autism that Dylan appears to have. It is called Aspergers Disorder and reading the blog was like, you could just change the name from Dylan to Hakon and most everything else would be consistent. Our son also loves Classical music and can play two hand compositions on the piano and takes piano lessons. He puts his hands on our faces and makes sure we're paying attention to whatever he's doing. He warms up very quickly to adults, but mostly shuns children because their behaviors are not as predictable and it pushes him out of his comfort zone. However, he's made a LOT of progress in this area in the Loudoun County, Virginia Public Schools Pre-K Special Ed program. He's constantly involved in role-play with his imagination. Hakon is fluent in both English and Chinese and can carry on an adult level conversation in either language or both at the same time. He's such a beautiful child!

    April 3, 2008 at 7:34 am |
  13. Juliana Lim

    My son is an autistic child and he is 7 years old. In our country Malaysia, autism is not really a priority important issue and not really support by our local Government. We are lack of such specialist center for Autistic Children, where they could be treated appropriately. There is a crucial lacking of specialist who are qualify to teach and diagnose such children.

    There is also lack of public awareness about autistic children. Not many people know or understand about it. A lot of the parents suffer in view of the lack of facility and support from our local Government.

    We hope that more information and program will be shown by CNN regarding Autism.

    I learnt from CNN website about this news and hope that I could be informed about future TV program show by CNN.

    Thank you and God bless

    April 3, 2008 at 5:09 am |
  14. Molly

    I'm pleased to finally have something like an autism awareness day out in the world, but what I'm not pleased about is the amount of spin of "autism as a disease" that's been put out there.

    I watched coverage today and was pretty upset to see that only a handful of the experts given screen time acknowledged the higher end of the spectrum, and that those on that higher end may not be so limited after all. But mostly what I saw was all from doctor's perspectives and parents perspectives, tearful stories of a child's so-called limits and the brave, brave parents that deal with them each day.

    Even more shocking was the lack of actual autistics, both high and low-functioning alike, talking about their community and their individual diagnoses in their own voices. It's all well and good to get the facts out there and educate the public, but without the essential input of those with these conditions, what good is it for us, the autistics?

    What does that say to us? That only our parents, caretakers, guardians, and doctors are good enough to talk about what happens in our minds and bodies when most of them have no idea what those daily internal goings-on feel like?

    It's already been beaten home again and again that we are 'defective' compared to normal, healthy children and only recently has the idea that the 'defective' label relented, being replaced with 'different'. But that message doesn't need to keep being broadcast, especially to a new generation. We're not defective. We just communicate in a way you don't understand. We have hearts just like you do, and we get hurt just as easily.

    I am a 23 year old high-functioning autistic. I have Asperger's Syndrome. I was diagnosed at age 14, though signs showed up far before then. I have become fluent in four languages (English, Spanish, French, and Japanese) and am considering learning a fifth. I've spent the last five years living off and on in Tokyo and even attended ICU (one of the Ivy Leagues in Japan) through UC Santa Barbara's program. I graduated last year and am currently preparing to head into the Japanese-English translation industry.

    I am not as limited as you think. I am not 'just' an autistic, just like I am not 'just' a girl. I have facets and depths like anyone else.

    Thank you for trying to educate, CNN. The effort is appreciated. But we, the autistics, would like to be heard too.

    April 3, 2008 at 5:09 am |
  15. Steve

    Looks like it is time for national autism day, or perhaps take your autistic kid to work day. Seems like everyone is autistic now. Incredible. I'm booking my appointment today.

    April 3, 2008 at 3:25 am |
  16. vern373

    This kid could very well be the President of the U.S someday....You heard it here first!!

    April 3, 2008 at 1:38 am |
  17. kw

    My family is a personal example of how autism is a spectrum and can have many different manifestations. We have have four children and two have autism. My oldest daughter, a teen, has Asperger's syndrome (high functioning autism). She started recognizing letters of the alphabet at 18 months and learned to read at 3 years. She has very intense interests in art, animals, and electronic music composition. However, she struggles tremendously with social skills. She has extreme difficulties in completing school work– unless it relates to one of her special interests. On the other hand, my youngest son, now 4, has a more severe form of autism. He has only a handful of words that he can say and has never put two words together in speech. Although he has learned quite a variety of words over the last two years, he will stop using a word after a few months and not return to use that word again. We're now trying to teach him sign language. Upon his doctor's recommendation, he receives daily behavioral therapy. This is a huge financial committment for our family because our health insurance will not pay for this very expensive treatment despite the fact that we otherwise have extremely comprehensive insurance.

    April 3, 2008 at 1:32 am |
  18. Bruce

    Dear Cnn,
    Please stop running 6 autism stories at once. I understand it is national autism awareness week, but I dont think you need to flood the news with this. Why cant one story be enough? Ok great we know about it, we have read all of your stories, now can you stop? its a little too much.

    I am a PhD student in biomedical engineering and I fully support this research to help autistic people. Maybe this is why I think that your coverage is too much because I already know a lot about it. But I still think its a little overwhelming. Can we find a little balance here??

    April 3, 2008 at 12:57 am |
  19. Cheng-en Lee

    Children with Autism are like angel sent from God and they are so pure in mind. These children might be mentally disordered, but they possess an incredible ability to memorize and do things we normally can't.

    It is very true that children with Autism do not understand social boundaries. My cousin Albert, who is a 12-year old boy suffers from Autism, always want to hold people's hand even for strangers, and when he cry he wants to hug people for comfort even if he doesn't know them.

    God bless us and all the children who are diagnosed with Autism. It is crystal clear to us that we must find the cause and cure for Autism as soon as possible. We should give all the children with Autism unconditional support and love.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:56 am |
  20. John Cobb

    Anderson,

    Thoroughly enjoyed your segment on autism tonight. I have a nephew, Ben, who is autistic. I don't know if his parents watch CNN, or, if they knew about your special tonight and throughout the week. Sanjay's "Finding Amanda" was superb. How could I send him an email, or a note. Does he have a blog as well?

    Thanks.

    John

    April 3, 2008 at 12:46 am |
  21. Frederik Rotty

    I'm from Indonesia, and my youngest son was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 yrs old. He'll be 8 this year and reading about Dylan I see similarities in the social interaction. My son is very outgoing, smiles all the time, likes to greet AND touch people. He likes it so much that we had to teach him NOT to greet AND touch everyone he meets. It's rather funny; when other parents teach their children to be polite to people, we have to teach our son not to be TOO polite 🙂

    But my son doesn't have that 'super' ability in math, and still has difficulty in reading and talking. I think that's another myth to shatter, that autistic children have above average skills/abilities in math, or language, or drawing...

    April 3, 2008 at 12:40 am |
  22. david

    Dear Mr,. Anderson,
    Genetic predisposition. All conditions including baldness are hereditary, so that doesn't really say a whole lot.
    Genetic engineering is still on the drawing board and how do know how much will really be accomplished there or should be. The real issue is treating these children with the condition called autism. This is where medicine is failing.
    However, after reading your story, now, exactly what is wrong with that little boy? He touched your face. He's focused. You implied some kind of problem about stepping on his thermometer being " your first mistake" but there was no follow up in the piece about what that meant. If there was any behavior problem you didn't happen to mention it in your story.
    Even this talk of screening out people with whatever genetic code they have ,may be screening out genes, that do or will play an important role in gene combinations in human reproductive cycles over generations.
    How many people have this genetic sequence and don't get autism?
    We don't know, huh? Maybe all, maybe most, maybe some, maybe a few. As your story demonstrates drawing conclusions based on things we don't know caters to misunderstanding.
    I do not get cable so will be unable to see, by your description, one of the more enjoyable, pleasurable, and oh so smart, little boys i think anybody could ever meet.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:36 am |
  23. Jen

    There is no cure for autism. People learn to utilize their strengths and use their gifts. People can learn to socially interact and control impulses on some levels of autism. I agree that we need to research and try to figure out what is causing this to rise to epidemic proportions, and hopefully find a way to reduce the rate of occurances. I just don't feel that you can "cure" a true autistic spectrum disorder. Quite honestly I don't know that I would want people to cure my child with HFA. We all have hurdles that we have to overcome in life. Just because we don't understand the way these people think doesn't necesarily mean that it has to be a bad thing. I know that there are things that I would take away, like some of the cruel things that are said by other children, but I wouldn't change who he is. Sometimes I think that it is the rest of us that have the disorder instead of him. How many times do we have to just suck it up and not do the things that will help us feel better? Maybe if we all went out and jumped on the trampoline for 30 minutes after work or school everyday the world would be happier.

    April 3, 2008 at 12:09 am |
  24. Ed Hershey, San Diego CA

    Please show this to the mother.

    This boy is not autistic. The mother needs to get a more rounded education on child rearing and dealing with gifted kids. He probably already learned how to manipulate her, and she needs to wake up to it. He has a mind of his own and will not follow authority. He is probably sympathetic to people with affection needs, and that is why he tried to communicate affectively with the reporter. The mother needs to explain things to him and negotiate in /his/ terms - otherwise, she will end up doing what he wants or face a crisis.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:54 pm |
  25. Robert Allen, Dallas, TX

    Thank you for airing this piece. Huxley wrote, "Knowledge is Power" so let us hope your work brings results for this affliction. Your work is Pulitzer material.

    Thank you,

    Bob

    April 2, 2008 at 11:52 pm |
  26. Debbie Starling

    I wonder....I hope like many others.....if money is the root to all evil....in the case of the Pharmaceutical Companies giving money to the Vaccination Organization....maybe the root is not evil but greed!!! How much money do they give and what is done with the money? Is the money really the reason we started out with 10 Vaccination and we are now up to ….what…36?

    Keeping them honest!!!!

    April 2, 2008 at 11:48 pm |
  27. Amy Parnell

    This is my first visit to this blog. My daughter Morgan is an amazing young woman and she has made some remarkable progress in her young life. She is 26 now and has achieved more than anyone but me thought possible. She is going to begin to speak to classes of Special Education students to make them aware that they can accomplish many great things and they can have a wonderful and full life. Morgans mantra is "Don't let your disability define you.", she has certainly lived up to her own words. I am very pleased to see this story about the abilities of those who live with this every day. Rarely are adults with autism shown on the television, this will give the families of the little ones much hope. I appreciate your show, and have been watching for several years. Thanks for your continued efforts to educate and inform the people.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:46 pm |
  28. Mary Anne

    All of this publicity is so great for future children with autism and for everyone who is within the "autistic spectrum". I was told in 1996 by my internist that I was autistic or had Asperger's Syndrome. Later some other doctor spontaneously told me the same. Previously, and since then, I have inaccurately been told that I am schizophrenic or generically need to see a psychiatrist.
    At 6 months old I had a bad reaction to my DPT vaccination (in 1955). But, I'm also adopted so I do not know my genetic background. Either way, I am who I am: a highly intelligent, artistically gifted person with many specialized talents and several inconvinient deficits.
    Granted, due to my inability to know how to make chit-chat and can't feign interest in topics I have no interest in I do not socialize well and am very lonely much of the time. This aspect needs to be addressed: aging (I'm 53) people with autism/Asperger's and socialization planning for them so that their 'golden years' are not spent alone. Not all of us have siblings, I am an only child with few cousins.
    We enjoy entertainment, activities as so 'regular' people. But not all 'regular' people know how to interact or are willing to be with someone not like them – especially in the age group in which I fit.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:43 pm |
  29. carole yudain/Stamford, Ct.

    Your program's on autism one of best you've ever done, because of importance to families worldwide...15-year old son of a dear friend was
    Bar Mitzvah'd two years later than usual because of his autism but he learned and sang all the necessary Hebrew with grace and joy...Held early on a Thursday morning at the Temple because no one knew if he could pull it off.He was exceptional; sorry that only several family friends were invited. As he finished saying his prayer in Hebrew, and gave thanks in English, he then turned towards his mother and called out: "How'd I do Ma?"
    That was the only part that showed he had a difficulty. She fought the local school system bringing him up; took him into NYC for plays and musicals. He loved "FIDDLER ON THE ROOF."..Keep it up, Carole

    April 2, 2008 at 11:41 pm |
  30. A

    My son is very much like Dylan. I didn't have anyone who would diagnose him or help me with him. I had to give up a lucrative career to "unschool" him. We became very poor financially, and that was very stressful, but we were rich as a family. My child was in kindergarten when he was 2 but didn't fit in because he was still in diapers. He read at the 10th grade level on his fifth birthday, blew the top off the college entrance tests at age 12 when I put him into public school, and started playing for a college orchestra shortly after learning to play the cello. Now in ninth grade ( I would not allow him to be pushed ahead ), he studies college courses such as calculus, physics and chemistry for fun. He read 800 pages a day when he was seven and easily earned the top reader award the first partial year he was in school even though he read several times as many books as he got credit for. There simply weren't enough challenging books in the school library.

    During his upbringing, he and I were ostracized at times due to his differences. He appeared hyperactive to others and also had a hard time with transitions, being slow to change course and receiving threats and even physical abuse from others. Naturally, I was blamed, and I was told my son would turn out horribly. He is, in fact, a top honor student in an exclusive gifted program, considered a very fine young man, very polite, interesting, positive, an inspiration and so on. It wrecked my career, hurt my health and devastated me financially to unschool him for so many years, but it was worth it all. I did for him what the schools refused to do, what others said was an overinvestment, and what he truly needed. And, through it, I became more of who I was meant to be. In fact, I have learned that I too am someone who has related characteristics of Aspergers, the mildest diagnosis on the Austism spectrum.

    I've spent myself raising this child, and it has been well worth it. He is in many respects a normal teenage boy. Yet, he is so remarkable that multiple veteran school administrators and teachers have told me that they have never or rarely met another truly gifted child other than my son. A Nobel Prize winner in physics once insisted that I must immediately stop homeschooling and place my child in a school for the gifted. He said I could never provide him what he needed. I responded, "How do you think he as turned out so well so far?" He truly was stunned by what my son knew about black holes and everything else they discussed when my son was age eight.

    I put my son in school at age 12.5 when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to take him to a nearby school district because my home district, the one I support to the tune of thousands of dollars per year, insisted that homeschooled children could never compete in their gifted program. My son beat every contestant from my home school district in the regional math tournament and went on to the state math tournament. He also beat them all in spelling, though he'd only seen the spelling list twice and they had been studying it all year long. And, he was selected every year for all region orchestra though he hadn't started playing until he was plopped into seventh grade mid-semester.

    What I am saying is that this child, who has never formally been diagnosed but who is clearly in the spectrum, is who he is. He's not damaged or disabled. He's extraordinarily gifted, like Einstein or Bill Gates. Kids don't have to be just like everyone else to be "okay." And, public school is not the best place for all kids. In his early years, my son could not have thrived in public school. He needed time for his senses to integrate, to figure out the world through analysis and testing, to develop his own strategies for coping, to live his life at his own pace–very fast in some areas and more slowly in others. When he did enter public school, he adapted beautifully.

    The public schools had told me when I presented him reading at the third grade level shortly after his fourth birthday, that all the other kids would catch up to him by second grade. Did that mean that he would not progress and that the other kids would all be a year ahead? He was at the tenth grade level by age five, so what did they mean? When I declined, they got frustrated and tried to get me to put him into a class with kids who could not talk and were just then learning what the color red was. He'd known the color red, all the other colors, and all the shapes I could think of by age 18 months. Their argument was that it was "free day care."

    A child's life is not something you throw away on "free day care." I was during those years extremely conscious of how essential it was to make every day count. I didn't want to waste a moment. We watched almost no TV, went to live classical and folk concerts, lived in nature much of our waking hours and studied every topic my son was interested in the rest of the time. He read voraciously, sewed beside me, painted with me, sang, made music and so on. He wrote his first letter before I taught him to write. He three years old. It said, "Deer Canta, I Luv ur Prezntz. I Luv Yoo. [His Name]." He explained that he used a "C" in Santa because he couldn't remember how to make an "S" and he knew that "C" could make an "S" sound sometimes.

    There are megabright kids we've all read about who can top these feats. The point is not that he's the most advanced kid in the world. It's that he's not mentally disabled.

    My son is also kind. When I was sick when he was two, he would bring me things to comfort me and also bring me helpful things, like diapers and wipes to change his diaper, along with a plastic bag to throw it away in. For years, he's brought me breakfast in bed on Mother's Day and at the age of nine made an amazing gourmet salmon dinner with everything made from scratch once when I was sick. The kitchen looked like a head of lettuce had exploded in it, but the dinner was truly exquisite, and the recipes were from his head, not from any book or directions. He also is very kind to elderly and children, preferring to do something for an elderly "grandma" than to have a toy for himself. Until the social age of 10, he preferred adult Sunday school to children's because they were more interesting. But, he played with kids his age, much older kids and adults whenever he could. He learned as an only child to insinuate himself into any group of kids, and he learned to master relationships with kids no one could get along with. He did this by figuring out the person's issues and needs and then accommodating them in a positive manner.

    Dylan and my son are not freaks. They are as they were meant to be. And, they were meant to be nurtured, not shoved into round holes meant for the average person. We all were meant to be nurtured, actually, but these kids can be squashed or bloom depending on whether they are nurtured or not. They are precious and bear the abuse they receive in many cases unjustly. I truly believe that a great deal of child abuse occurs when parents, day care workers and teachers persist in using intimidation and physical means to try to control these kids rather than figuring out their issues and needs and accommodating them in a positive manner.

    The occupational therapist I took my son to so I could get the protection of some sort of diagnosis (this came from the physician she referred me to) told me that I was the most intuitive parent she had ever met. I was already doing everything she would have suggested. But, I was being widely criticized for doing so, even though I always had my supporters, usually elderly women who knew better.

    All kids deserve the kind of nurturing I single-handedly gave my son in the early years. And, all families should have this help to avoid the extreme hardships I and my son endured for years and have yet to recover from in some ways.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:37 pm |
  31. Maleia

    We have a wonderful 23 year old daughter named Megan who has autism and who is now high functioning, but it wasn't always that way. An open mind and a strong belief that we could change her brain was a driving force for us. Our children are beautiful and have many wonderful gifts. The journey is indeed incredibly challenging and continues into adulthood. The most important thing is to let love flow, focus on your vision, and never give up! This morning during one of the broadcasts a beautiful song was played "Don't Give Up on Me" I believe were the lyrics. Please post title, who sang it, and where we can purchase. One added request on Megan's behalf: Please use people first language when referring to people with autism, or any disability for that matter. (e.g. a child with autism vs an autistic child). Meg would like you to know that autism is only one facet of the person she is; so while she doesn't have a problem talking about autism and how it has impacted her life, she asks that it not be the adjective used to describe her! (So, please no more autistic kids!)
    Thanks so much CNN for taking today to educate and highlight the many people living with the challenge of autism. You have done a great job and a great service.

    Kindest Regards,
    Maleia Christian

    April 2, 2008 at 11:25 pm |
  32. Jaccki S

    This was great, Can I write to Amanda?

    April 2, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  33. xnmby

    I'm sorry, but am I missing something here? The kid can read way above his level, can read and write music, is a whiz on the computer and has memorized the subway map. Also, he displays an affable personality and does reasonably well with social interaction, he's compassionate and sharing, with some social quirks.

    Who diagnosed this kid with autism? The truth is the kid is a super genius with some social skill difficulty. What supergeniuses don't have social difficulty? They all do.

    This is nothing like typical autism, with kids who are disturbed by particular sounds and who are withdrawn and repeat things endlessly.

    This kid simply does not fit the definition of autism, and should never have been diagnosed as such. He just doesn't meet any of the criteria.

    If you want to call him "asperger's" fine, but that's a lousy diagnosis too. Any of the truly brightest people on earth could be diagnosed with Asperger's.

    The whole thing stinks to high heaven. Stop whining about your poor dysfunctional kid and put him in some advanced classes. FEED HIS MIND AND STOP TELLING HIM THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH HIM.

    One of the key reasons the autism rate is exploding is a wave of over-diagnosis, and this kid is case and point.

    Do all smart geeky socially awkward kids now have to live with a mental disorder diagnosis?

    God help us.

    Tom Waite, MD, PhD

    April 2, 2008 at 11:20 pm |
  34. Kate

    I think it's fantastic that cnn is covering autism today however, the "super kid" stories without showing the majority of autistic children is not accurate reporting. If I knew nothing about autism, and I was watching your various interviews today, as I have been, I would think it would be wonderful to have an autistic child.
    The lack of information today on how heartbreaking it is for parents of family of children with autism is upsetting to me. The cost of getting diagnosed, the special schooling, tutoring and occupational therapy to families is unreal. To have a child that isn't one of the "super kids" that is being shown today, like 'rain man' is heartbreaking. Many, probably, most autistic kids can't communicate their needs, aren't potty trained, can't feed themselves etc. I think a more balanced report would be more beneficial to the public. The point of awareness for autism is to try to get a cure. I think that would come from showing the other side not just the amazing things that some of these kids can do.
    I am not saying that the 'super kids' aren't great stories to hear, but I have a niece who is severely autistic, please explain to your viewers/readers the various degrees of autism.
    Thank you.
    Los Angeles, CA

    April 2, 2008 at 11:18 pm |
  35. Margarette

    Great coverage on Autism. Very informative.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  36. rebecca

    also see "Born on a Blue Day" a fabulous book (and video on the web) about autistic savant Daniel Tammet from the UK!!!

    April 2, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  37. comfortablynumb

    A lot of the comments here are people relating to the problem. I can't say that I can relate in any way, or that I know much about the subject, but I d know that these stories make you crumble. To hear the word "autism" and the connotation that comes with it, and then to see these stories and the enlightening presence of these people-not just children-makes my heart melt. Thanks for the great coverage.

    April 2, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  38. Isabella

    I came from the society where being professional was valued more than being social. Asperger's type behavior was considered being in the spectrum of "normal" behavior. Maybe we are too concentrated on social interaction and forget about other things in our lives. Maybe autistic children are actually a bit superior to "normal" if you consider other aspects of our lives: speed of learning, superior memory, ability to concentrate, etc. Many great scientists are thought to be autistic.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  39. Marc

    Sounds very much like Asperger's Syndrome, it's on the Autistic spectrum and can be misdiagnosed as Autism. I have Asperger's and I had similar behaviors when I was Dylan's age.

    Also good to see the emphasis on a genetic cause which is likely to be responsible in most cases of Autistic Spectrum disorders. The media is giving the vaccination crowd far more attention than the theory merits.

    -Marc
    West Des Moines, IA

    April 2, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  40. vern373

    That's phenomenal yet not uncommon amongst autistic children.They tend to show a high capacity for learning.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  41. Lora

    Wow, this story just blows me away, I always thought autism was so bad that children are uncontrollable. We need more stories like this, to help us understand autism and how it can affect kids in so many differant ways. Thanks

    April 2, 2008 at 10:26 pm |
  42. CP

    I see myself in Dylan. When I was 4 I was a number freak, but you might call it a math wizard now. I created and employed then the beginnings of an amazing memory system that serves me immensely well. I was just very recently diagnosed with Autism. It is an amazing syndrome. My mother was ill when pregnant with me. We lived in a state where there was a accidental airborne release of contamination from spent nuclear fuel. I also had what my doctor now thinks was like RSV at 10 days spent several weeks in the hospital incubator of sorts. I remember that oxygen tent quite well! Social and behavioral studies suggest that children can only remember things when they have gained the skill of language. Think about that for 5 seconds and you will agree that those studies are completely flawed. Much more research needs to attend to Autism. There are MANY very high functioning Autistics that have no clue they are 'afflicted'. I call it my greatest gift and my best secret. Thank you AC and CNN for all the attention to this subject today, especially the letter from Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey. It is possible and quite real to cure this illness. I can testify.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  43. Stephanie Galietta

    I am an educational technician in the area of literacy. I taught my daughter (with Asperger's) to read before she attended kindergarten, and she quickly bypassed early reader books for more advanced levels. It was very frustrating for me when she was tested with a Diagnostic Reading Analysis tool (DRA) at the end of the year, and only tested at a level 12, when the teacher initially began at a level 20. (Actually, she was reading the Teacher's Manual beforehand, which subsequently had to be covered up!) The reason her levels dropped was because she refused to retell the story she had just finished reading. In her mind, it made no sense to retell something she had just told the teacher, and she adamantly refused each time. This behavior requires a markdown each time a retelling of the story is not told. Finally, her teacher got the idea to ask someone else to come into the room to listen to her retell the story, and she did. These children are more concrete and linear in their thinking, and retelling a story isn't always the best way to test for comprehension. The old-school way of asking pointed questions is a much more accurate way to evaluate these children. Modifications need to be made in the area of testing, just as they are in the process of teaching.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  44. Maya

    It is heartbreaking to see these kids. I am not sure if we will be ever able to find a cure or know if it is vaccine or genetics as mentioned here and heard on Larry King Live. We ceratinly hope to find a cure if mankind is capable to go to space. The thing that is in our hands to provide these kids with support from parents, doctors, teachers and schools. We can try to do is leave them in this world with some good freinds and provide them with opportunities to develop social skills by having lots of playdates, get them to their highest potential in education and provide adequate funding for poor who cannot afford such support sytem.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  45. Kathy, Chicago

    The choice for book club this month was "The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time" by Mark Haddon. It discribes the life of a fifteen year old as he tackles the real world. It is an inside look at the struggle that people with autism face and how they deal with their struggles day to day. We discuss the book next week and I always talk about the specials that CNN is running.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  46. Caryn Papish

    So let me get this straight. His mom's last name is Jackaway and she got sperm from a Sperm Bank? Just checking....

    April 2, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  47. Kate Wilcott

    My son didn't speak until he was 2 and a half, at which point he progressed from muttering "a-ba" (to label a ball, an apple, his father) on a Monday evening to telling us about paleontology and baleine whales on Thursday.
    I remember seeing "super kids" on shows like Rosie and thinking "that's just like my son" and 4 years later realizing these shows were highlighting autistic children. My son was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was 6.
    I am executive director of a children's theatre school, and when I named the company "InterAction" I didn't realize the enormous irony that would hold, as I would soon discover my son has a condition which inhibits his ability to read "intuitive" human interaction. But I have had dozens of children referred to me by their doctors who know the strong link between creativity, humour, spirit, and autism.

    April 2, 2008 at 10:10 pm |
  48. Annie Kate

    Dylan sounds like a wonderful boy. I never realized until I read your piece that autism could manifest itself like this; I had only come in contact with the autistic children who seemed to be off in their own world and did not communicate much at all.

    I also did not realize that autism could have a genetic factor. I had only ever heard of autism perhaps being caused by vaccinations. I'm looking forward to your segment tonight and the other segments. I'm sure there will be a great many other things we will learn tonight – thank you for sharing your visit with Dylan..

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 2, 2008 at 9:42 pm |
  49. Sarah

    Randi

    Thanks for doing this story. I'm autistic, but not your " typical" autistic.

    By the way....last night's Wal-mart follow up-wow. Great work!

    April 2, 2008 at 9:42 pm |
  50. Jennifer - Michigan

    Randi,
    Wow, sounds like a fantastic story, looking forward to it.

    April 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm |
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