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Special Report: Coping with Autism
CORALVILLE, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- When I first met Joe Blair, he was sitting in a Coralville coffee shop, writing.
He's turning his book, "By the Iowa Sea", into a screenplay for a movie producer: "Every script I write he hates," Blair said.
It's something Blair never thought he'd do, but then again, his story is anything but expected.
Blair may have had one set of expectations when he and his wife, Deb, eloped, ands settled in Iowa.
"We thought we were going to be these country people, simple life, good life, and we didn't have any idea what it was like to be a parent," he said.
Especially the parent of Michael, their fourth child. Diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis in the womb, Mike was born with "severe and profound" autism, Blair said.
"By the Iowa Sea" begins when Mike was 10-years-old, during the floods of 2008.
"At the time of the flood he was in his running away mode and we were afraid he was going to run away and drown, so it's constant, 24/7, we had to watch Mike," Blair said.
Constantly watching Mike meant other parts of Blair's life went unnoticed.
"My marriage was not in a good place, it's very stressful for a marriage to have a child like Mike, to have that constant stress, and isolation, too," Blair said.
The isolation took its toll: "I thought, I couldn't take it anymore, I hadn't really accepted my situation," he said.
"It is a very stressful diagnosis for the entire family to absorb," said University of Iowa psychologist Todd Kopelman.
An autism diagnosis can lead to higher divorce rates and overall stress levels, Kopelman said.
"This is not a diagnosis that you want to deal with just on your own," he said.
For Blair, a mechanic who fixes chillers for his day job, not being able to fix his son was one of the most difficult pages to turn.
"It's kind of like the evolution of acceptance with a child like Mike. At first, you reject the idea that something's wrong with your child, then you live with this idea that you're going to fix him or her, and eventually, if you can't fix him or her -- which we can't seem to do -- you accept your child," Blair said.
And when that acceptance finally came, something unexpected came with it.
"Authors need authority, that's what authors are, and the only thing that gives me authority is Michael. And if I didn't have Michael, I wouldn't write. I wouldn't write anything worthy of reading, and part of it is having a kid like Mike," said Blair.
And having a kid like Mike is becoming more and more common. One in every 88 children is being diagnosed with autism today. In Iowa, that means 8,000 children are on the spectrum.
Add to that stress the fact that many insurance companies won't reimburse patients for a procedure called Applied Behavioral Analysis, a treatment shown to be effective in managing autism. In addition to that, not enough doctors in Iowa actually provide that service, Kopelman said.
"So parents are really facing challenges on both ends. How do we get it paid for? And even if we can get it paid for, how do we find someone who can help us?" Kopelman said.
Kopelman is working to answer that question by providing families with that option to participate in a tele-health program that lets them do treatments remotely over the computer.
For the Blair family, the story doesn't end here. It's just the beginning of another chapter in a story that's still unfolding.
"You have to have hope. Because I promise you that things change. They're not going to change the way you think they are, you might be the one to change, your child might be the one to change. But things will change, and that's a promise," Blair said.
For more community resources for families dealing with autism, visit the UI Children's Hospital web site and scroll down to Resources and Community Support.