Katie Couric Show Highlights Autistic Kids, Honors Caregivers

National   |   Lauren Enriquez   |   Jun 2, 2013   |   3:19PM   |   Washington, DC

Being pro-life means being pro-all-life. That includes everyone from the pre-born to the aged and dying, in any condition from perfect health to “futile” and comatose cases.

For that reason, pro-life advocates work to affirm the dignity of all people with disabilities, and to encourage their caregivers in the arduous duty that has been entrusted to them.

Last night, I was at a Mexican restaurant with my husband and son for dinner. Somewhere between munching on chips and salsa, and wrestling with my 11-month-old in a desperate struggle to preserve the integrity of the glass salt and pepper shakers he was after, I noticed that the couple sitting in the booth behind ours was a mother and her grown son. The son clearly had some kind of disability, which caused him to speak a bit slowly and with impaired speech. Nevertheless, his mother was intensely interested in everything he said, asking him poignant questions that garnered thoughtful responses from her son, who at one point quietly said, “Thanks, mom” in response to an invitation that he think about what he would like to do on his birthday in one month.

Those simple words of gratitude carry with them deep meaning. “Thanks, mom,” for being so thoughtful as to remember my birthday a month in advance. “Thanks, mom,” for your loving patience with my slower-than-average abilities. “Thanks, mom,” for giving me the gift of life. The love wrapped up in their gentle exchanges was palpable.

On Thursday, daytime ABC talk show host and former NBC news anchor, Katie Couric, featured disabilities as the theme of her show, Katie. She introduced the episode, which spotlighted autism, saying, “Children are being diagnosed with autism at an alarming rate. Today, 1 in 88 children is considered to have some form of autism. In the next decade, 500,000 children with autism will turn 18. They’ll be facing a huge crossroads and how they can lead happy and productive lives is a huge concern for them, their families and the nation.”

Any portrayal of autism and disabilities has the potential to take a negative turn — to focus on the difficulties more than the triumphs and blessings — but Katie did a wonderful job of highlighting the most encouraging stories, showering the autistic young people and their caregivers with gifts, and shedding light on the side of autism that makes autistic individuals so special, as opposed to disabled.

An autistic high school student, Chad DenDanto opened up his life to filmmaker Andrew Jenks, who followed his daily activities for one year to film a comprehensive documentary of the daily challenges and triumphs of living life as a young man with autism.

A heartwarming father-son duo, Dwayne and Julian Ballen, were featured briefly. Julian has autism, and his affectionate attitude and love of art make him irresistible. His father, Dwayne, wrote a book called Journey with Julianchronicling family life with an autistic son. Later, Temple Grandin, an autism activist, gave advice on how to challenge children and help them to develop into adults who are not impaired by their autism. A fourteen-year-old physicist graduate student with autism, Jacob, and his mom Kristine were also featured. Kristine pointed out that it was not until she and her husband began to explore what her son loved (the stars, and physics) that they were able to provide the best guidance they could to their autistic son. Jacob’s work in the field of physics is so extraordinary that some professionals have posited that he could receive a Nobel Prize someday.

The most moving display of love on the show was between Richard Hoyt and his father Dick. Richard was born with a disability that resulted from his umbilical cord being wrapped tightly around his neck at birth. His range of movement is impaired and he cannot speak on his own, but he has a machine that assists him with vocalizing his thoughts. Richard asked Dick to push him while running a race so that he could feel the exhilaration of the experience, and that sparked a flame that continued for many years. Dick has pushed his son in many races, from marathons to fun runs, and his son’s gratitude for Dick’s dedication is astonishing. “Racing is a taste of freedom from my disability,” says Richard. See the clip below to be moved by the bond that unites this unbelievable duo:

Kudos to Katie Couric for giving a platform to these special voices, and for acknowledging the dedication and humility of their caregivers. Katie gathered gifts and donations for the many guests she had on her show and their foundations. Learn more about the episode here.