New Executive Director Offers Message of Hope

Article excerpt

Byline: Janice Youngwith

Arlington Heights resident Karen McDonough says her mission as newly named executive director of the Autism Society of Illinois will be to spread hope.

"ItAEs as simple as that," explains McDonough, who cites the recent explosion in treatment offerings, therapies, services and supports for those with autism and their families. "While the causes of autism are unclear, the good news is autism is treatable. Millions of families are desperate for solutions and resources and weAEre there to provide support, information, networking and referral all along the way."

McDonoughAEs background includes work as chapter development officer for the National Autism Association, fundraising director for the Foundation for Autism Information & Research and serving as vice president of her local Autism Society of Illinois chapter.

aeIt was a grim timeAE

"Like many parents, my involvement and commitment to the cause stems from having a child diagnosed with autism," states the mother of three. "When Kevin, who is now 14, was first diagnosed, it was a grim time. There was little hope and lots of blame. Information was not readily available and support not abundant."

McDonough points to the widely-publicized theories of Bruno Bettleheim, who at the time was an internationally-known child psychologist lauded for his studies of autism.

BettleheimAEs theory, she explains, blamed cold, aerefrigeratorAE mothers for their childrenAEs struggles with autism.

"Since then, medical research has provided greater understanding of the biological basis of autism and BettleheimAEs views on autism have been largely discredited in mainstream science," she reports. "Today we have much more information on this disease and its roots as a neurobiological disorder."

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Like many parents with similar stories, McDonough says she and her husband, Harry, a Skokie firefighter, worried and first suspected their 2-year-old son might have a hearing problem.

"He was babbling but not speaking, very introverted and simply wasnAEt acting like other 2-year-olds," she recalls. "As time went by, he seemed to drift away from us and eye contact diminished."

On the flip side, McDonough says her son was reading sight words at a very early age and was extremely high functioning.

"Learning that your child has autism can be like hearing the diagnosis of a terminal illness," she says.

"Initially we simply couldnAEt believe Kevin had autism. We didnAEt understand what autism was and erroneously thought intelligence had something to do with it. …