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Dan Burns on Adults and Autism: "Hey, There's a Naked Man on Your Roof."

Saving ben By Dan Burns

I was reading on the upstairs balcony when the cop car whipped around the corner and into my parking lot. About that time I thought I heard my son Ben's gleeful, autistic laugh behind me. But that was impossible, because I was sure that Ben was in his room reading Dr. Seuss books. Another laugh - a shriek, really. As the cop got out of the cruiser, my neighbor came trotting up, arms windmilling. "Hey, there's a naked man on your roof." I looked up and yep, there stood 22-year-old Ben in all his shameless glory, tossing pecans to the squirrels.

 Last week, a Dallas mom responded to my blog, commenting on her son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): "He's only 13 but he's taller than I am now. That scares me because looking like an adult and behaving inappropriately can get him into so much more trouble now."

Yeah, tell me about it. I hustled Ben back through the open window. I heard the cruiser door slam as the cop walked toward us... Read the full post and please comment with your own experiences at Dallas Morning News MomsBlog

Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., former filmmaker, software developer, and businessman, taught Communication courses at Southern Methodist University, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Phoenix. In 1990 his third child, Benjamin, was diagnosed with autism. Burns' memoir, Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism ( published by UNT Press, tells of a three-year-old child's regression as an infant into autism and Burns' struggle with the medical establishment, the school system, and his family in the battle for Ben's health as a father who never gives up. Planning for the time when he and Ben's mom pass on, Dr. Burns is developing the Autism Trust of Texas, modeled on The Autism Trust (U.K.) and focused on the creation of new communities to offer a future for the increasing number of children with autism. They will provide a home base for life where adults with autism can work, live and improve their skills and talents in a creative and supportive environment.



Adult with autism living with family featured on you tube under videos titled: "Behaviorally Fragile Autistics" and "Looking Back at Severe Autism". Videos take you to channels that show a case of severe autism with self injury that has baffled experts over the years. Family seems to go through similiar struggle we all do with this dumb ass system. Interesting Good to know we aren't alone. But sad we haven't learned as a society to do things better.

Theresa O

Timothy, I wonder if you might be able to make your own variation of the food allergy cards that are becoming more popular these days. Some are here:

You could have them available to hand out to people who give you weird looks in church, restaurant and store personnel, etc. By educating these people, you'll be helping not only your brother, but also the next person with autism who comes into contact with them.

Your brother is lucky to have someone like you in his life.


I once read a quote about aging and special needs. "Kittens become Cats." I know when my beautiful 8 year old becomes a threatening man size there will be less understanding towards him.

He also loves to be naked. In fact, he has no tan lines this summer.

Kimberly G

My son 17 years fully developed got all worked up one day in the car over us not buying him something he wanted he started taking off his clothes and we kept driving. When we exited the freeway, he jumped out of the car buck naked and ran across two lanes of the off ramp buck naked. I usually have the child lock on so this was unexpected. He started to jump off into a ravine and I guess the cold air and the drop into the ravine made him come back to his senses. He ran back to the car and my husband and I were in shock. Cars slowly passed us with people staring (it happened in about a minute total but seemed longer) The light changed and we moved on but we kept expecting to get pulled over by the cops. The sensory overload of not getting his way he got worked up. He has a strong relationship with his OT and she talked to him about this that if he gets worked up the pants stay on at all times. This hasn't happened since. And I am firmly believe angels were there helping him as he would have been hit by a car exiting the busy off ramp.


Your post really highlights the need for more people (especially in our schools) to get educated on the disorder. If 1 in every 100 people have autism now and it keeps increasing, then it seems like more people in the United States will have to get educated on the nature of the disorder.

I have had many difficulties helping others understand the nature of my brother's behavior. When he goes pacing around the house or saying things that don't fit in with normal conversations, people think he is weird. The real issue that I struggle with is how to help others to understand that his behaviors are caused by autism, especially friends, people at church and others who have to interact with people with autism on a daily basis. Any ideas?


A student can attend public school untill the age of 22.
Lots of these kids will be staying in school till then - not graduating this year.

Anne Dachel; Love your articles, love your comments, you have a mind like a steel trap.

and maybe you are right.

It could be though that that tsunami you all are talking about should have already occurred when they entered the public school system. Nothing was said or really noticed. No national news, just some dry statistician some where saying hummmp.

When they leave the school system, it could be they will disappear again, behind the close doors of private homes of the parents. Only an occasionally burp of when the police are called to the home for domestic violence.

How is that this is what is really going to happen?

Theodora Trudorn

I've talked about the massive numbers of those with autism who are about to graduate next year I don't know how many times!! Those who were surveyed back a long while ago, the old 1-150, they are GRADUATING!!! You want to talk about shock to the system!!

These are kids who aren't going to college, who aren't going to be activiely seeking work (before anyone who usually yells at me for saying this goes after me, you HAVE NEVER SEEN WHAT IT IS LIKE INSIDE A HAB CENTER AND WHAT SEVERE ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE SO BITE ME!!!

The picture unsettles me. Because as much as I hate to admit it, working for DMH has opened my eyes to alot of things. One of those things is those with the SEVERE autism, those I have seen at those centers far outnumber those with AS like me, who are just now being diagnosed.

And those who are severe are graduating!! Why is it those here and people who work in the field are the only ones who see this? We've painted the picture?! What's not to get?!

We are all going to have to brace ourselves!


Very true Donna. But instead of disapproving looks or comments, police, violence, and worse can be on the horizon for our young adults acting differently in public. Society is not prepared for the vast numbers of adults with moderate to severe autism about to age out of school programs. The autism tsunami is about to hit, and no one but us can see it coming.

Sarah L'Heureux

As the mother of an 11 year-old boy, I secretly dread the signs of growth and puberty in my son. He is growing beautifully, bones lengthening, hair thickening, scent no longer that of a child. But, with every shoe size change, lost tooth or penile erection I am afraid: how will the community tolerate my son's maturity? Will he continue to be viewed with compassion or will he be seen as a nuisance or possible threat?
Thank you, Anne, Donna and other parents. We DO need to look out for each other. Blessings to us all.

josie muller

the climbing of roofs and rejecting of clothes came after we gave our non-verbal mildly autistic son meds. in our opinion, meds worsened his "behaviours". in 1985, after thoridazine at 11, he went on to climb, fully dressed, the neighbours' roofs using their TV antennas as stepladder. the last time he did it was after being on mellaril, wearing shorts and t-shirt in february, the middle of our canadian winter, climbed our frozen roof through a skylight window, he was 15...a firemen scared him and fell off the roof, he wasn't hurt badly.
in 1997, while on risperdal, our son became double incontinent needing to pee every 45 minutes, to be fully clothed started to lose its meaning...and SIB became chronic.
that's right! as they get older they lose their cuteness...


My 4 year old son loves to "pee-pee in the grass" and will do it whenever he pleases. It's not like we are discouraging him from doing it, we hope it leads to him using the potty (we put grass in the toilet) but after reading this I might at least get him to pee-pee in the bushes.


Sylvia, society doesn't seem to be so understanding NOW. My 15 year old is as hairy as his 46 year old father. Who knows what the next few years are going to bring? I can usually spot a kid on the spectrum while I am out shopping, and I have compassion. Only us parents can truly understand. We are going to have to look out for each other.

Anne McElroy Dachel

"And when our cute kids are big" it'll be obvious to all that this is a generation disabled like none before in our history.

All the lies that have gone on for endless years in an attempt to cover up this disaster will finally be exposed.

All the best to you and your family.

Anne Dachel


This must be why my neighbor is building a fence between our houses.


Great book and great blog. When our cute little kids get big, society will no longer be so understanding about some of their behaviors.

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