Health Promotion

Ed Asner: A True Inspiration for Parents of Children with Autism

By: Paul H. Dworkin, MD

I recently had the opportunity to meet acclaimed actor and political activist Ed Asner on a connecting flight to Hartford. I found him to be an inspiration not only to his son and grandchild, who are both on the autism spectrum, but to all parents of children with complex needs.

I sat next to Ed on that flight. We had an animated discussion for almost two hours on a wide array of topics including the stunning rise in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, the potential implications of recent changes to the diagnostic criteria for autism, what we both felt was the poor judgment of Robert DeNiro in initially supporting the showing of a film by controversial anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, and the challenges faced by families in trying to find appropriate programs and services for children on the autism spectrum, including his own.

Ed was remarkably forthright about his experience as both a parent of a young adult with autism spectrum disorder and a grandparent of a much younger, more recently diagnosed grandchild. During our discussion, he informed me that he was planning another cross-country trip very soon with his son, who is the father of his affected grandchild, to speak at a CDC-sponsored event. While I have no doubt that Ed and his son were compelling and effective speakers at that event, I am so impressed by Ed’s long-standing commitment to parent support. It’s something all parents can learn from when it comes to promoting their children’s optimal healthy development.

During the flight we shared, Ed was traveling alone to Hartford from Los Angeles, despite his difficulties with mobility (he walks with the aid of a cane and is slow as befits an 86-year-old). He was headed to attend parents’ weekend at his young adult son’s residential school and independent living facility in Connecticut and was planning to return to L.A. only two days later. I was so impressed by his commitment to crisscross the country, despite his own personal challenges, to ensure that he was able to celebrate the event with his son.

While I appreciate that Ed Asner brings his world-famous, highly recognizable, renowned voice in support of autism (i.e., he “talks the talk”), I am even more impressed that he overcomes considerable personable hardship to “walk the walk.” Very powerful and inspiring indeed!

Paul H. Dworkin, MD, is the executive vice president for community child health at Connecticut Children’s, the director of the Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health and the founding director of the Help Me Grow® National Center. Dr. Dworkin is also a professor of pediatrics at the UConn School of Medicine.  Learn more »

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