tv America Tonight Al Jazeera April 25, 2015 2:30am-3:01am EDT
>> a possible break through in autism treatment for the very young. >> by 15 months he just started engaging. his language started coming. i remember just thinking, i think he's getting this. >> breaking the silence, when autism and innovation meet. >> hi. >> hi. >> hello siri. >> hello. >> and letting go. the search for support, when children grow up. >> parents are scared to death. the number one question is: what will happen to my children after my husband and i die? what will happen to them as an adult?
>> an "america tonight" special report, living with autism. thanks for joining us, i'm joie chen. autism was first formally identified in the 1940s although doctors had long seen children behaviors. in the decades since science has advanced its understanding of autism. more than 2 million americans are now identified as living on the autistic spectrum. but there remains controversy over what causes the disorder, how it's treated or even if there should be a cure. "america tonight's" michael okwu begins the report, with a family that knows too well about living with awe autism. >> most four-year-old boys noah hinson likes playing and exploring the furniture.
but when he was an infant -- >> by 12 months we were getting pretty worried. we were pretty sure we were going down that road. >> reporter: that road was autism. and kristin and hers husband neil an air force pilot had been down it before. their two older sons ten-year-old justin and seven-year-old simon are both autistic. >> you had a couple of children already who were autistic yet i have to imagine it was no less i don't know, a sad feeling. >> yes. >> to experience this. >> definitely. it was hard. it was hard. >> reporter: autism now affects 1 in 68 american children but for kids with an autistic sibling the risk goes up dramatically to one in five. that's according to research from the u.s. u.c. davis mind institute. two years ago, kristin brought her
children here to enter into a study of high risk children. >> children in that constellation have a 50% chance of developing autism themselves. that is highest risk group we know. he was in the highest risk group and he showed early signs. >> professor sally rogers evaluated noaaie when he was nine months old, detecting the telltale signs, not responding to his names. >> noah, noah, noah. >> not mirroring her gestures. >> can you do that? did you do that? >> reporter: but here's where things take a turn. rogers was also embarking on a groundbreaking study to see whether intensive intervention
with high risk babies might help. >> giving him the model instead of just taking it. >> so she started training osmall group of parents. >> we were not talking with parents about spending hours of therapy with their children. we were talking about some focused interactive techniques that really would feel pretty natural oanyone doing these i think. >> reporter: except what's natural for autistic babies is not to respond. >> they taught me how to use the songs to engage him, and once he learned the songs, to vocalize communication. if you have children with autism they're not reinforcing you to continue to do those things and as a parent you want to make them happy. it is more natural with a child with autism to just let them play. >> reporter: at the risk of over-simplifying this, it's like
you are compelled to be in his face all the time. >> totally totally. but you step back and wait for the response. >> rogers and her colleagues evaluated noah and the other babies every 12 weeks until they were three. the results were remarkable. >> as we looked at the data for first 12 weeks things are going like downward a little bit and it's oh what's that? because we know that that pattern is the pattern that is the beginning or the precursor of the onset of autism. but then after that first three months of a little bit of slow down, the babies in our study they like turned a corner. you looked at the data and every single child shows this turn in their developmental lines no matter what we were monitoring starts to go zip right up as for every baby the normal range. >> by 15 months noah just started engaging.
his language started coming. i remember thinking, i think he's getting this. by 18 months the infant sibling study, they didn't see really any concerns anymore either. >> is noah showing any signs of autism today? >> no. >> none? >> none. >> this girl is named lucy. >> today noah naturally interacts with everyone. in fact six out of the seven children in the study shed their autism symptoms and were hitting normal developmental milestones. successful? >> first of all, young brains are incredibly ready for learning. second, being able to work at the beginning symptoms, may be particularly powerful point to work. because some later symptoms may actually be consequence is of early symptoms. third, autism changes the social environment. a child who has autism who is
not initiating interaction with parents, after a while the environment around that child changes, the messages stop coming because the child has left the circle of the family. >> this intervention appears to be very potent. of course as the authors are well aware, there are some limitations, the biggest being there were only seven children and that they really didn't have a large well matched control group to see how similar kids would have done without the intervention. >> debra fine at the university of connecticut says rogers' results are promising but should not be interpreted as a cure. she has found that while older children do overcome autism symptoms, their brains still don't react the way as typical children. >> they weren't using the same brain areas as typically kids.
they were overcompensating using other areas of the brain. for that reason over any other i would say it's not likely the these kids were cured. >> whether it has cured the children, it has changed lives. >> it depends on what you mean. we don't have biological test that the predict and diagnose autism. it is a disability that impairs everyday function. so if you don't have an impairment in your everyday function, it's pretty hard to say somebody has autism. >> reporter: as for kristin hinson she is hoping that noah will remain symptom free. with her latest child, nine month old lucy, good news, lucy
is not showing any signs. >> i got to say this is bittersweet. had you known this before you had your two other kids you might have been able to engage them in the same way. >> yep, sure, hindsight, it's a hard place, we try not to go there too much. but it would have been very beneficial for justin. especially, he didn't start receiving therapy until he was four. so earlier intervention for him especially as an infant, i think really if i would have known what i know now i think he would be probably struggling a lot less. >> do you know native land, do you remember? >> home land. >> she expects autism therapies to continue to improve, to get more precise, like treatments for different cancers or infections but until then, she says she'll continue to guide parents with the tools she has. >> when parents ask me about
what are the chances that my child, we can get rid of autism, i say you know this is what i want for your child. i want your child to feel successful and competent and loved. they say absolutely that's what i want for any of my children. i say let's focus on that. >> are you pretty confident that one day there will be a cure and one day that cure may be connected to this treatment? >> i think so. i think we're getting closer. i would love to say yes. i think that this opens a lot of doors . >> michael okwu, al jazeera sacramento california. >> next here, breaking the silence. >> siri can i marry you? >> i'm not
the marrying kind. >> sirisiri speaks, what that means >> monday. >> it's crazy money that you can make here. >> behind america's oil boom. >> it's a ticking time bomb. >> uncovering shocking working conditions. >> do you know what chemicals have been in that tank? >> and the deadly human cost. >> my big brother didn't wake up the next day. >> "faultlines". al jazeera america's hard-hitting... >> today they will be arrested. >> ground-breaking... >> they're firing canisters of gas at us. >> emmy award-winning investigative series. "faultlines": death on the bakken shale. monday, 10:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america. >> part of al jazeera america's >> special month long evironmental focus fragile planet
>> the new al jazeera america primetime. get the real news you've been looking for. at 7:00, a thorough wrap-up of the day's events. then at 8:00, john seigenthaler digs deeper into the stories of the day. and at 9:00, get a global perspective on the news. weeknights on al jazeera america. >> for many people, living with autism the simple act of connecting can be a challenge. thoughts ideas fears can ail be concealed by the disorder. now there's an increasing evidence that technology can make a difference. here is "america tonight's" christof putzel. >> reporter: like so many children with autism 13-year-old gus snowdon has difficulty communicating with others. except for one unusual friend. >> hi. >> hi. >> hello
siri. >> hello. >> except the iphone's assistant. last year gus discovered he could have conversations with siri and the two haven't stopped chatting since. >> reporter: what is your most favorite thing to talk to siri about? >> i've always talked to siri about everything. >> he's been a loving child. his desire to connect with people is profound. his ability to connect with people is limited. >> reporter: gus's mom judith says his introduction to siri was by accident. >> i was reading like buzz feed has 21 things to do with your iphone. that was one of those list s, one of those things, ask siri what planes are above your head. gus happened to be doing something else in the world.
i said why would anyone need to know this? he said, so you know who you're waving at >> 1500. >> did you ever look up in the sky and wonder? >> i do yes. >> his endless questions are frustrating to his mother but not to siri. >> what bus is are running today? >> there was a huge amount of time where he was and still is anxious about thunder and lightning. so to be talking about scattered thunderstorms versus isolated thunderstorms i could only do it for ten minutes but siri could do it for an hour if that's what he wanted and siri could give him answers to things i couldn't being not a meteorologist.
>> how is the weather this week? >> nice weather coming up this week. >> what do you know about the people who developed siri. >> nice thing i heard about is the one of the people who developed it, the man from norway, it was named after a beautiful young girl from norway, a weather-woman. one wonders about his predilections, whether he is somewhere on the spectrum himself. >> getting information about train schedules and the weather is just a small part of what siri has given gus but what has begun as a way to fet answers has developed into a dialogue. something that gus doesn't have with anyone else. >> we don't give much thought to
the talking, the back and forth conversation that this personal assistant is capable of. so you know i just hear him, i'd be passing his room and he would be going, how are you doing today? >> reporter: to siri? >> she would answer very well thank you. that kind of conversation. and he would ask her for things. and the time that struck me like after a week he was spending a fair amount of time talking the with siri, he said, "you're such a nice computer and you always help me" and he says, "can i help you?" she answered back, "i have very few needs. >> at least he asked. >> the most viewed article of the month. >> what god to me are the number of not just parents of autistic kids but the number of autistic people who wrote to me too about
their experiences with technology. and with how at different times in their life they've gotten a little bit of solace out of these machines. >> siri and technology represent maybe a nonjudgmental type of individual, or interactive device. so you know, there's not those complex social nuances. >> reporter: dan smith is the senior director of discovery neuroscience as autism speaks an advocacy organization. >> doesn't require that you adhere to all of the norms that dominate in the world, verbal and nonverbal when you are speaking to another person. >> autism speaks is so interested by siri's telephone they have put together a grant to ship ipads to parents with children who have autism
. >> it's yours! >> we decided to do the ipad give-away program because of the atint that a lot of individuals with autism have towards technology and their receptivity to it. not to mention its increasing use for skills teaching learning, all sorts of things. >> how much has siri changed his interactions with everyday people? >> well, i'll tell you this: without wanting to tout siri as this great miracle cure, it's not. but since he has had siri in his life he for the first time he asked to have a play date. he asked to have another child over here. and i think it might be partially because he's more comfortable with just back and fort conversation. >> do i get frustrated at you siri? >> i can't really say.
>> do i get angry at you? >> no comment. >> technologies like siri are only going to get better and better more interactive, nor intuitive, maybe not just the black and white conversations you have with siri now. there will be other things on our phones that are much more sophisticated than siri is right now, other robots and technological inventions that take us to the next level. >> reporter: but right now gus is happy with siri. >> can i marry you? >> i'm not the marrying kind. >> christof putzel, al jazeera new york. >> next up, age old dilemma with a twist. how to get your kid to make it on their own, to families with
autism. >> it's a new day. >> another chance. >> i will be strong. >> i can't get bent down because my family's lookin' at me. >> i will rise. >> i will fight. >> i will never give up. >> you're gonna go to school so you don't have to go war. >> hard earned pride. hard earned respect. hard earned future. >> we can not afford for one of us to lose a job. we're just a family that's trying to make it. >> a real look at the american dream. "hard earned". premiers sunday, may 3rd 10:00 eastern. only on al jazeera america.
>> in this country, the number of children identified as living with autism has nearly doubled in just the last 15 years. the bigger challenge though lies ahead as those autistic children grow up to be adults. "america tonight's" chris bury met a man who back a model to those living on their own. >> in a visit last february brandon kramer gave "america
tonight" a guided tour of his world as an autistic adult. >> this is my entertainment center and my chair and my bed and my light. and another -- my computer table and -- >> oh, nice. >> reporter: on his own for 16 years. brandon treasured his independence. >> yes, i like it a lot because i can like come and go as i please. i don't have to worry about -- and i just feel happier. >> and you don't have to worry about somebody checking up on you, you're your own man. >> exactly. >> one of his favorite gadgets was this bright red button. famous from a television commercial. they said it brightens his mood. >> that was easy. >> and i have this too. >> but things were not easy for brandon or his mother
amalia. as a newborn he was tiny, barely five pounds and from the time brandon was a toddler, his mother knew he wasn't developing like other children. >> i noticed his speech or lack of it. words would come out jumbled mixed up. i thought though when he was two and a half it would be really a good thing for me to put him in preschool or nursery school. and whether i did that, the teacher said, he won't play with anybody. he just plays on the side by himself. are and he doesand he does one thing over and over and over again. >> reporter: by the time brandon was nine he was having seizures, the diagnosis, epilepsy. his mother was counseled to keep it secret. but brandon wanted to play sports in school.
he was bullied by other students. >> he wanted to play basketball but his eye hand coordination was poor, couldn't make a basket, couldn't catch the ball. the kids were smart, they knew he couldn't catch the ball. they would throw it at his face and he couldn't stop it in time, they broke his nose several times. >> and eventually, he was diagnosed as autistic. >> he had every single symptom. i felt relieved yet saddened at the same time. >> support typically ends after high school, most states stop support at age 18. some states including california, provide support until 22. then parents are on their own.
>> what's it like when that educational support suddenly ends? >> parents are scared to death. the number one question is: what will happen to my children, or my child, after my husband and i die. and along comes, with that, is well what will happen to him as an adult? >> in california, more than 70,000 individuals have been diagnosed with autism. most of them are children. and over the last ten years the number of cases across the country has exploded by more than 80%. that means a tidal wave of autistic adults are on the way. nearly half a million over the next ten years. brandon's mother is on a mission to help other parents help their autistic children carve out a path to independence. >> i have such an admiration to those of you who have blazed the trail for the rest of us. >> at a recent conference in atlanta, thousands showed up to
hear her keynote speech. >> a lot of us become stuck like glue. how can we be anything else? we're co-dependent. we allow our children to grow and maybe one day go. they'll have a better life now than after we're gone. >> thank you, how are you doing? >> flies to see you. >> now amalia star has made a career of counseling parents ever autistic children who are entering adulthood. >> they'll get there when they get there. it will be perfect timing maybe not for us but for them. >> our children will live 75% of their lifetime as adults and much of that time is without us. our job whether they're two years old and newly diagnosed or they're 22, our job is to help those children reach maximum independence. that's our job. our next job after that is to learn the art of letting go. >> and after living on his own
for so many years, brandon had some advice for others, dealing with autism. >> what do you say to other autistic adults who are a little worried about maybe leaving mop and dad anmomand dad an going off on their own? >> i tell them, look at me maybe you can do it too. >> chris bury , santa monica california. if. >> that's our program. go to aljazeera.com/americatonight. come back and we'll have more of "america tonight". >> fall of saigon, forty years later. >> we have no idea how many were killed. >> unanswered questions, a botched withdrawal lives lost. examining the impact that still resonates today. a special report starts tuesday, 10:00 eastern.
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