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Assistance For Autistic Children

Reported and Web Produced by: Michael Flannery 9 On Your Kids Side Originally aired 9/24/02 on WCPO TV9 in Cincinnati.

Text version of broadcast:

There are more people in Greater Cincinnati who are autistic than people who have musclular distrophy or cistic fybrosis.

Children's Hospital of Cincinnati sees 100 new cases of autism each year.

Now, Michael Flannery is introducing us to two brothers who have autism and need our help.

Josh and Justin Popp were born four years ago.

When they came home from the hospital, the twins were two beautiful, healthy baby boys.

At 18 months, the twins started talking. They could say "da da" and they could say "bye bye" and then, one day their speech progress stopped.

"It just went away and we were confused. We were like, why can't they say bye? Why can't they wave anymore? They'd start covering their ears and spinning. Justin would spin with his eyes at the top of his head it was kind of freaky. It was kind of scary," said the twins' mother, Donna Popp.

The boys have autism and they live own little world, a world where other humans don't exist. They trust objects more than humans and it's imposible to reach them on our level.

They don't like human contact and they have to have total control over their situation at all times, which is why they like they enjoy watching video tapes -- they like rewinding.

They can rewind the video and click play and rewind the video and click play many times over for hours and hours because they know what's going to happen.

On the other hand, if you walk into a room they don't know whether you're going to be angry, whether you're going to be sad, or what your mood or actions are going to be, they don't like this. Consequently, they steer away from what they don't understand: human beings -- they don't understand our world.

Many kids with autism don't speak, don't make eye contact and don't show affection.

Stevie Fuller, who also has autism, was in the same shape as the Popp twins when he was five. Now, he's nine and things at his house are a little bit different.

Michael Flannery at the Fuller's front door: "Hey Stevie. How ya doing?"

Mrs. Fuller: "What do you say?"

Stevie: "Hi."

Michael Flannery: "Hi."

Stevie: "What is name?"

Michael Flannery: "What is my name?"

Stevie: "My name is..."

Mrs. Fuller: "Who is that?"

Michael Flannery: "I'm Michael."

Stevie: "Hi Mike. And that's...?"

Michael Flannery: "That's Francisco." (Francisco is a WCPO photographer.)

Mrs. Fuller: "Say hi Francisco."

Michael Flannery: "Hi."

So, what's the difference? Why does Stevie now interact with others on a limited basis?

Steven's parents said Stevie's progress is due to the family's trip to the Option Institute in Western Massachusetts.

The founders of the Option Institute also had an autistic child but they cured their son by playing games with him.

Now the institute trains other parents on how to create special playrooms and reach their children. Does it work? The founder's son is now a college graduate with a near genius IQ.

The key for successful play is to do whatever the child does and join him or her in their world. Then, the child finds out he or she is in control and is accepted. A bond of trust is established and it's then that the child will venture in to the grown ups world.

But it's takes a lot of specialized playing -- eight hours a day, seven days a week, and that's a schedule that most parents can't fill by themselves, so they count on volunteers that they train to help.

Sarah Claus has been a with Steven for four years and she cherishes every moment.

"It's phenomenal. It's touched me personally more than I think that I teach Steve," Claus said.

The Popp's playroom is almost finished. It only needs one more thing.

"I need volunteers to help me with The Son-Rise Program® in home. To play with them, to be a kid again. Someone with energy enthusiasm and excitement that wants to play with them in their room," Claus said.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but to the Popp family it's everything.

"It's kinda scary that one day I'm not going to be here and who's going to love them because if they're not independent, who's going to take care of them, know what they want?" Donna Popp said.

Donna and her husband need volunteers to give the twins their only shot at a normal life. What would it be like, years from now, to be invited to Josh and Justin's college graduation or wedding, knowing you played a large part in their sucess and happiness, is a tremendous benefit.

The Popps aren't necessarily looking for teachers. Instead, the Popps need people who remember what it's like being a kid -- people who can play, people who are actors and drama majors are better equipped than the some teachers.