Anderson Cooper Feels a Chill?
DTaP Side Effect: Autism. Now You See It. Now You Don't.

Autism: Extreme Wallet Makeover

PocketsManaging Editor's Note: Bob Wright summed it up best on MSNBC last year. "Even if you're rich, autism makes you broke."  My husband lost his job last month. We have readers who've lost their jobs this year. And will likely see many more in 2009, I fear. Autism and unemployment is a particularly tough pairing.  I wish the Vardon's well.

Family fears they'll lose 'Extreme Makeover' home
11 hours ago

OAK PARK, Mich. (AP) — Four years ago, millions of television viewers watched as a deaf couple marveled at the renovations to their home that would help them better accommodate their blind, autistic son.

But now the couple, Judy and Larry Vardon, worry that the home could face foreclosure. They were featured in a two-hour episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" that set a ratings record for the show when broadcast Nov. 6, 2004.

Weighed down by a mortgage payment that has almost doubled since the makeover and medical insurance that doesn't cover autism treatment for 16-year-old Lance, the Vardons are clinging to the hope that Larry will keep his job at Chrysler LLC's Sterling Heights stamping plant. The company is on the brink of bankruptcy as it and the other Detroit automakers appeal to Congress for emergency loans.

"I'm afraid I'm going to lose my house now," Judy Vardon, using sign language through an interpreter, told The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens. "This house really belongs to Lance. This is his environment. He can't speak out for himself, and I hope we can save this house."

ABC said 20.5 million viewers saw a crew led by host Ty Pennington rehabilitate the Vardons' 980-square-foot house near Detroit from the inside out, including installing cameras and flat-screen monitors allowing the Vardons to monitor Lance.

After the makeover, the couple refinanced the mortgage, and their monthly payments have nearly doubled — from $1,200 to $2,300. They had debts of $20,000 for the boy's therapy alone.

"We didn't have bad spending habits," Judy Vardon said. "My husband got laid off for a time, and insurance wouldn't cover Lance's autism therapy and some other things like his vision and special dental work."

The couple are working with a nonprofit group that aids families in crisis to help them negotiate a lower mortgage rate.

The Vardons remain grateful to "Extreme Makeover" and the volunteers who worked to renovate their house and make it safer for Lance.

"We're a close family that loves each other," Judy Vardon said. "I feel that I was given this life to show others that you can face these challenges."

Information from: The Macomb Daily,


Ben's Dad

Looks like this family might make it in the house a little longer thanks to donations.

The multiple disabilities made this house uniquely adapted for this family, but hopefully the day will come when families dealing with autism who need to move to follow work or changing economic situations can do so without fear of permanently losing all of the services and waiting list positions that their kids need.


I would love to be more self-sufficient, to actually raise our kids on a small farm. Sigh. We are going to have a big garden anyway, at our rental house...and I'm going to be thankful that we can do that.

Jenny, I agree with you fully. There are so many ways I helped my child just by reading books and understanding him more. He's improved 100% with no speech therapy, OT, PT, but what the school offered. There is no way in heck I could afford I am now attending college for it!!


I agree with you Jen. I had the same thoughts when I read the article. Financial strain associated with autism is not at all unique to this family. However, others of us don't have elaborate gift homes from which to borrow excessive amounts. The loan is unaffordable to this family, even while fully employed.

Even with autism, we need to live within our means.

The public appeal hints that they are opening themselves up to being rescued by outsiders once again. I hope they are able to maintain full employment, but additionally, one of the parents may need to consider a part time job until they get over this hump.

We can't borrow our way to prosperity.


article about the family on,,20245129,00.html

Amy in Idaho

As we entered into this recession, I said to my husband "we may not have any money, but we're in good shape". Because of our son's condition, we've been forced to live frugally and smart. Everyday I think "what would Grandma do?" and that's become my mantra for how I cook, how I shop (or more importantly, how I DON'T shop) etc.

When you're slapped in the face with "autism-like" symptoms and then come to the realization that there will be nothing there to support you (but remember - 30 hours a week of early, intensive therapy is recommended - tough shit if it's not available to you because of location or money!) you "mommy-up" and figure out what you can do. Bio-med is such a natural direction because it's parent directed and it's the cheapest alternative!

We've moved to another state for better services, one of us stays home as 'case manager', we have cut expenditures to the bone because it all needs to go for treatment and I wouldn't do it any other way.

How ironic would it be that autism families are the ones not coming out 'worse for wear' on the other side of this recession?


Jenny - no way would I give you crap, I agree with you.

How about the rest of us struggling to pay our bills from month to month? On modest houses, no less.


crap?? No way, you sound like an amazing mom who is willing to sacrifice a lot for her children. I hope things get better and better for you.


This isn't the first time someone took out another loan on their Makeover house and then lost it or came close.

I feel for them, I do. But I can't help shaking my head nonetheless. Partly b/c they took out a second mortgage and partly b/c I feel ABC is not always responsible with these homes... I can't imagine how much the utilities and taxes increase after the makeovers.
The makeovers should be practical and affordable.

There are things you can do to fight the autism treatment/money dilemma.

1. Move to a state where services are provided. Don't say that isn't possible. We move mountains for our kids... make it possible.

I HATE where I am living, but here in PA, the tab is picked up.

2. Provide services yourself. You can figure out ways to do PT, OT, ST for your child.

--Oh I am certain I will take crap for this post, but I stand by what I am saying.
When you have kids you have to make the ultimate sacrifices. I am living in subsidized housing right now b/c it is what is best for my child.

I think we forget about the low tech things we can do to help our kids.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)