Posted by: myautisticmuslimchild | August 22, 2010

‘United States of Autism’

By Joseph Chaparro Special To The Times Union
Published: 12:00 a.m., Saturday, August 21, 2010
  • Trish Washburn, right, visits Sen. Roy McDonald at the Legislative Office Building in Albany. A film crew interviewed the Colonie resident and senator for a documentary called ?The United States of Autism.? (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

  • Trish Washburn, right, visits Sen. Roy McDonald at the Legislative Office Building in Albany. A film crew interviewed the Colonie resident and senator for a documentary called ?The United States of Autism.? (Cindy Schultz / Times Union)

Trish Washburn sat beside her husband, Gary, in the center of her living room in Colonie, speaking as two cameras faced them. She recalled the day she went to the doctor’s office eight years ago to find out whether Buddy, her then 18-month-old son, had autism.

“So what do you think?” Trish asked the doctor, eager to hear good news.

“I believe he’s on the autism spectrum,” the doctor told her.

As Trish told her story before the cameras, tears rolled down her cheeks. She struggled to complete her sentence.

“It’s hard to talk about, because it brings feelings back about that time,” she said. “But I have to keep going.”

“I was angry at the world,” she said. “I blamed myself. I blamed God.”

Inside the living room, decorated with photos of her two children, a four-person film crew making a documentary, “United States of Autism,” listened attentively.

Richard Everts, one of the four, is the co-founder of the Tommy Foundation, a nonprofit that works with families affected by autism. He’s using a $50,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project to pay for the documentary about families living with autism.

“It’s a story of hope that I want to tell my kids about one day,” said Everts. “I myself have an 11-year-old on the spectrum and want to answer his questions (about himself) through this film.”

When Washburn heard Everts was looking for families to be in the documentary, she e-mailed him.

The film crew had traveled more than 10,000 miles across the United States and had not been home in more than 40 days. The Washburns were the last family to be filmed.

They followed and filmed Buddy and his 7-year-old sister, C.J., for much of the day.

Washburn believes that C.J. might also have autism because she’s noticed compulsive-disorder-like symptoms, but the doctors have dismissed this, saying there isn’t enough evidence.

“Since one in four boys are diagnosed with autism, it’s harder for a girl to be diagnosed with it,” she said. “I believe in my heart that C.J. has autism.”

Buddy was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, which means he finds it difficult to socialize and communicate with others. His fascination with cars, however, is a huge icebreaker when talking to people, according to Washburn.

Filming began with Buddy and C.J. at the Easter Seals Camp Colonie, a camp that helps children with disabilities and disorders overcome challenges.

Buddy and C.J. played in the pretend Olympics games and races with 70 other children.

Buddy was aware the cameras were following him. But the boy with the pale green eyes and red Transformers T-shirt was happy to be part of the film.

“I think it’s cool, great, fun, exciting — all that combined,” Buddy said about the documentary.

Buddy played kickball with his friends at the camp while Trish and Gary Washburn met with state Sen. Roy McDonald for the film. He congratulated her for being a great advocate for children who have autism. McDonald has two grandchildren of his own on the autism spectrum.

Trish has long been an advocate for children with autism.

She serves on the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council under Gov. David Paterson and works with three other advocacy organizations. She has been fighting for autism-related benefits since she had Buddy.

The Washburns went through financial hardship when Gary lost his job after Buddy was born. It was then becoming harder to pay for Buddy’s autism services. Trish fought for the Autism Insurance Bill that passed in June, which provides financial assistance to the families of those with autism.

“Our financial problems aren’t over, but they’re better than they used to be,” Gary said.

Trish believes that it wasn’t coincidence her family was chosen to be part of the documentary. In her last words on camera, she shared her hopes that many families will learn more about autism after seeing hers on film.

“I just want people to learn from a new perspective,” she said. “I believe that Buddy and C.J. were given to me to make a difference.”


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