Ed Asner and son, Matt, to kick off Autism Summit
Akron Beacon Journal - 10/8/2017
Oct. 08--Despite having an extensive Hollywood career that's earned him seven Emmys, Ed Asner still has to deal with everyday problems. And sometimes, those problems can escalate.
Take, for example, the time he got pulled over. Asner said he knew he was in the wrong, and he was prepared to cooperate with the police officer.
But his son, Charlie, had a different idea.
When the officer approached the window, Charlie Asner leaned over his dad and said: "Do you know who you're talking to?"
Charlie Asner has autism spectrum disorder.
"I had to do some fast talking with the big, towering cop," Ed Asner recalled.
It's a story Ed Asner often tells when he talks about his son's autism, as he will at this year's Autism Summit on Thursday, along with his oldest son, Matt Asner.
In its third year, the Autism Society of Greater Akron's two-day Autism Summit aims to focus on autism in the community and how to support individuals living with it.
The summit kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Akron Civic Theatre, where Ed and Matt Asner will discuss their personal journeys with autism while Bruce Winges, the editor of the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, moderates the conversation.
Ed Asner is best known for his role as Lou Grant in the Mary Tyler Moore show, which eventually got its own spinoff series. He also played Santa Claus in the movie Elf and voiced Carl Fredricksen in the movie Up.
Charlie Asner, who is now 30, was diagnosed with autism when he was 7 or 8, Ed Asner said, around the time of the incident with the police. Since then, Charlie Asner has received his bachelor's degree in ecology and is pursuing a master's degree.
"[People with autism] are blessed in terms of wonderful brains, but at the same time, they have personality quirks," Ed Asner said. "It's an experience, and everybody should go through the experience, because they come out smarter."
Autism spectrum disorder is a range of neurological disorders characterized by communication deficits, social difficulties and restricted and repetitive behaviors, according to the Autism Society of Greater Akron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the prevalence of autism to be 1 in every 45 births.
By now, Ed Asner and his immediate family are well acquainted with the disorder. Matt Asner became the national vice president of development for the Autism Society of America last year.
But more personally, Matt Asner has six sons, and three are on the spectrum: a 9-year-old, 14-year-old and 15-year-old.
"We are kind of like the Brady Bunch of autism," Matt Asner said.
Together, Matt and Ed Asner have learned a lot from autism. Ed Asner said it's made him more patient. Matt Asner, who left the filmmaking world to work full time for Autism Speaks in 2012, learned how to become a professional advocate for his sons. But more than anything, the two discovered that autism can look completely different in each individual.
"There's no right statement on, 'What is autism?'" Matt Asner said. "It's different for everyone."
The second day of the summit, which is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Hilton Akron-Fairlawn, will take a deeper dive into the disorder during a full-day conference centered around the theme, "Effective advocacy."
Laurie Cramer, the executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron, said advocacy is part of daily life for people in the autism community, whether they are parents, educators or people with autism themselves.
"[The autism] community can sometimes be considered difficult to work with. There's a lot of fear in our community," Cramer said. "We were trying to think of tools for our community to become better advocates without burning the bridge."
The conference will feature Jeanne Wiedt as the keynote speaker. Wiedt is a certified trainer with the Dale Carnegie Training of Northeast Ohio, and she will teach a mini course in applying the principles of Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, to advocacy.
At lunch, Gary Tonks, the executive director of the Arc of Ohio, will talk about the importance of speaking up at the local, state and federal levels to create changes to support people living with autism.
The afternoon will consist of breakout sessions.
Also at this year's summit, Cramer said she plans on revealing the results of the Autism Wellness Survey that the Greater Akron Autism Society conducted in Northeast Ohio in 2015. The survey measures the quality of life for people living with autism based on a variety of factors.
Cramer said the area took an important step in the right direction when Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro declared the county "autism friendly" this April. Still, as the survey shows, there are many steps left to take.
"People know about autism and understand it a little better, but I think we still have a long way to go," Matt Asner said. "We're nowhere near acceptance like we should be."
Now, advocates like Cramer and the Asners want to begin educating members of the public who might not have a direct stake in autism spectrum disorder. Cramer said that's a large reason why the summit is open to everyone, not just stakeholders.
By doing so, people who encounter individuals with autism can relate and communicate with them effectively.
It's a move that could benefit not just people with autism, but society as a whole, advocates say.
"They have an enormous amount to contribute to us and our society," Ed Asner said of people with autism. "If we can find the way to marshal that energy, that intelligence, mankind will advance far greater than it has before."
Tickets are $75 for parents and caregivers and $150 for professionals. For more information, visit http://www.autismakron.org/conference.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.
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