Wednesday, September 29, 2004

WrongPlanet is a web community designed for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. We provide a forum, where members can communicate with each other, an article section, where members may read and submit essays or how-to guides about various subjects, and a chatroom for real-time communication with other Aspies.

Asperger's Syndrome, a pervasive deveolpment disorder, is a form of autism. People with Asperger's Syndrome usually have normal or above normal IQ's. It is described as an inability to understand how to interact socially.

The Poetry of Jerry Newport

For more information

Autism Society of America
A leading source of information and referral on autism. Phone: 1-800-3AUTISM

National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR)NAAR is dedicated to funding and accelerating biomedical research focusing on autism spectrum disorders.

MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger SpectrumA nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information and advice to families.

Autism TodayAn online source for resources and information on autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

Families of Adults Afflicted with Asberger's SyndromeFAAAS offers support to the family members of adult individuals afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome.

Advocates for Individuals with High Functioning Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and other Pervasive Developmental DisordersA parent support group in Long Island, N.Y.

Autism Facts

What is Autism?
A Definition

Autism is a brain disorder that typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the environment. Some people with autism are relatively high-functioning, with speech and intelligence intact. Others are mentally retarded, mute, or have serious language delays. For some, autism makes them seem closed off and shut down; others seem locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking. Although people with autism do not have exactly the same symptoms and deficits, they tend to share certain social, communication, motor, and sensory problems that affect their behavior in predictable ways.

What Causes The Disease?

Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic versus non-autistic children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that autistic children may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" that causes autism to develop. Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.

How Many?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism affects 1 to 2 in 1,000 Americans. Studies done in Europe and Asia since 1985 have found that as many as 2 to 6 of every 1,000 children have an Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which is a broad array of mental problems that include autism. Many people believe that the incidence of autism is rising. A California study published this fall found that the rise in autism over the last decade was real and has little to do with better diagnosis and awareness.

In The Movies
Rain Man

Many books and films have dealt with the issue of autism. The most famous is "Rain Man," the 1988 film that starred Dustin Hoffman as the autistic brother of Tom Cruise. Cruise must come to terms with the fact that his brother is autistic.

When Was Autism "Discovered"?

Leo Kanner published his first paper identifying autistic children in 1943. Before then, such children would be classified as emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded. Kanner said that these children often demonstrated capabilities that showed that they were not merely slow learners, yet they didn't fit the patterns of emotionally disturbed children. "Autism" literally means "escape from reality." The name was used because Kanner suspected that these children were trying to escape from reality.

Notable Sufferers
Notable Sufferers

Among those who are thought to have exhibited traits related to autism or Asperger's Syndrome (a milder version of the disease) are inventor Thomas Edison (left), novelist Jane Austen, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Vaccine Controversy
Vaccine Controversy

Some researchers believe that some autism may be related to the use of the certain vaccines on children. These vaccines contained thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Some believe that the vaccine exposed infants to high doses of mercury, which led to autism. The theory is extremely controversial, and many researchers say it is not backed by scientific evidence.

CBS News | When Jerry Met Mary | September 29

This was a great story. I hope you got to watch it.

(CBS) Jerry Newport and Mary Meinel were brought together by something that usually keeps people apart: autism.

People who suffer from it, as Mary and Jerry do, are usually born with it, and usually grow up unhappy, wary of others, often shutting out even their own parents.

Some autistic people are profoundly retarded; and some are brilliant, like the two people that Correspondent Lesley Stahl first introduced you to in 1996, and then again eight years later.

Jerry Newport always knew there was something wrong with him. But as he was growing up, he didn’t know what it was.

“The one thing I've never had is natural grace. I guess that's the part of me that I've always felt was missing, that everybody around me seemed to have, was this natural sense of when to talk and how,” says Jerry. “What to say and how to say it, and do all those other unspoken things.”

Jerry was always out of step with the rest of the parade. He did well in school at the University of Michigan, but then he spent the next 20 years drifting from job to job. He was a taxi driver, a messenger, a clerk, busboy and deliveryman. He failed at work, and he failed at relationships. He even had trouble, and still does, making eye contact.

”I was just Jerry,” he says. “I was just odd, eccentric … just almost normal.”

But he got so depressed that he tried to kill himself twice. Without friends, he developed a deep bond with animals. He let his pet cockatiels fly loose in his apartment. And then, just when he felt he would never find his way, he went to the movies. He saw “Rain Man,” which starred Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic man who spent his whole life in an institution.

Babbitt had some unusual skills, which Jerry discovered he had, too. When a man in the movie asked Babbitt how much 4,343 times 1,234 was, Jerry knew the answer.

”The answer was 5,359,262,” says Jerry. “I said it before he [Babbitt] said it. People in front of me in the theater just looked around. And then, I realized, ‘Uh-oh.’”

As Jerry watched Hoffman play Babbitt, he said, “That's me.” Babbitt was 40 when he first realized he was autistic. So Jerry set out to learn everything he could about autism, and found his way to the department of psychiatry at UCLA. There, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which most experts say is a distinctive form of autism.

Asperger individuals are often highly intelligent, with unusual skills. But like other autistic people, they suffer from severe sensitivity to light, sounds, smell and touch.

Once Jerry knew what he had, he went looking for others like him. He organized a support group of grownups with autism, and they meet on a regular basis.

Mary Meinel is a savant, considered a genius in some ways. Yet as a child, she was labeled difficult, even retarded. One teacher even thought she might be deaf. But Mary was hearing sounds that other humans couldn’t hear. She cried if the piano was out of tune. She played musical instruments with virtually no lessons. She writes music but goes about it like no one you’ve ever heard of.

She can write music from the last page and do it backwards. She says it’s because the music is already written in her brain. In fact, when she was with Stahl, she was writing four parts for a string quartet.

Like Jerry, Mary has Asperger’s Syndrome. After years of turmoil, including a nervous breakdown and thoughts of suicide, she found her way to Jerry's support group.

”And then I found out that he had cockatiels, and he kept them loose in his house,” says Mary. “And I’m going, ‘Hey, me, too.’”

These two lost souls had found each other, and seven months after they met, Jerry asked Mary to marry him. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. They live in an average house in an average neighborhood. And they’re just an average couple – almost, but not quite.

The Newport household includes one rabbit, three iguanas, and 11 birds.

Every new marriage takes adjustment, but theirs took more than most.

“Jerry will walk in the door, and I'll go, 'Hi, honey. How are you?' Hug. He goes, 'No! [Don’t touch me],' says Mary. “It’s like being electrocuted.”

“The kinds of touches that intimidate me are the ones that are a complete surprise,” says Jerry. “But it's when you want to have sex, and that's what both of us want to do, that's a different story, a good story.”

They both say they have saved each other.

“She's the kite and I'm the anchor. I didn't know how to hope, and all she could do was hope,” says Jerry. “It’s incredible. I mean, it’s a miracle. I wake up and I feel like I’ve won the lottery and I didn’t even buy a ticket.”

But their relationship has taken some twists and turns, as Stahl discovered when she visited Jerry and Mary Newport eight years later.

Their divorce in June 1999 came as a shock for everyone who knew them.

“For me, it was a very, very low point in my life,” says Jerry. “Because I really felt like I’d lost the greatest and perhaps the only opportunity I would ever have to have a relationship with somebody who was really a soul mate.”

Mary moved back to her hometown of Tucson. But a year later, after being lonely for her soul mate, she decided to take a big step.

“I made a phone call. I said, ‘Please, come back. I miss you,’” says Mary.

Jerry missed her, too. Eleven months later, they remarried and held their reception at the local dog track, where a race was named in honor of the occasion.

For Jerry and Mary, life is good once again. Jerry and Mary now live in the Arizona desert, where they dote on their exotic menagerie of pets. Mary no longer writes music, but she’s happy at home, tending to her flock.

Since this story first aired, Jerry has been in demand as a public speaker, demystifying for others the condition of autism. Together, the Newports have written self-help books for people like them. They are now working on an autobiography they hope will appeal to a larger audience.

Hollywood producers had the same idea when, inspired by Mary and Jerry, they made a film based loosely on their lives. The movie, due out later this year, captures the social discomfort that people like Jerry always feel. But at this stage in his real life, Jerry says he’s come to terms with who he is.

“Rather than being obsessed with trying to be in step with the world, I've come to accept the fact that in certain ways I never will be. And I just don't hate myself for it,” says Jerry. “I think that once I started learning how to love myself as I truly am, it made it easier for other people to love me the same way.”
CBS News When Jerry Met Mary September 29, 2004

For Help And Information: Find out more about autism, and also where to get help.

Cure Autism Now
5455 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715,
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Autism Society Of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 300
Bethesda, Maryland 20814-3067
301.657.0881 or 1.800.3AUTISM
Fax: 301.657.0869

Families for Early Autism Treatment
Families for Early Autism Treatment
P.O.Box 255722
Sacramento, California, 95865-5722
Voice mail - 916.843.1536

Carousel Schools
7899 La Tijera Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90045

National Alliance For Autism Research
99 Wall Street, Research Parkv Princeton, NJ 08540
(888) 777-NAARFAX (609) 430-9163

CDC Autism Information Page

NIMH Autism Information Page