"Derry has made some very
large gains in the last three or four months," says
Stanley L. Swartz, Ph.D. For the last 2 1/2 years, Derry has
attended this program for children with autism. Impressed
with Derry's achievements, Swartz placed him in a Reading
Recovery program at the center, where the boy receives two
hours a week of individual tutoring.
"He's real bright, reading words a 6-year-old wouldn't
know," says Page Brandt, his teacher assistant at Cal
State, San Bernardino.
Autism, four times more common in boys than in girls, occurs
in 15 out of every 10,000 births. People who have the
lifelong disability have trouble expressing themselves and
interpreting the meaning of others' words. They have
problems processing everything that stimulates the senses --
the hum of an air conditioner, the flash of neon signs, a
babble of voices at the mall.
However, those affected aren't always easy to spot, with
much depending on the severity of the disorder.
"Derry looks normal and will talk to people, mostly
adults," says his mother, O'Dell. "They don't
realize he's autistic. They don't see the hand flapping, the
funny little things that set him off."
Educators consider Derry high functioning within the
broad spectrum of autisitc behavior. This means he is far
more in touch with the real world
than the stereotyped
autistic person, the savant character played by Dustin
Hoffman in the movier "Rainman."
"Derry has a higher level of intelligence, manifested in
language and academic skills," Swartz says.
In September, Derry sat in the back of his kindergarten
class, more comfortable to be isolated. Eventually, he felt
safe enough to mingle with the other children and sit with
them at tables.
These steps delight and astonish his family, who knew
nothing about autism when Derry was born on Dec. 24, 1990.
He wasn't diagnosed until he was 3 1/2 years old.
"We always thought he was weird from the
beginning," says O'Dell, who's divorced and works in
customer service for a title insurance company.
Sebree, who manages a Riverside real-estate office four days
a week, is highly involved in her grandson's life. To give
her daughter a timeout, she keeps Derry overnight every
Every Monday Sebree attends the autism program at Cal State,
San Bernardino. There, she and O'Dell participate in a
parent support group for 2 1/2 hours while Derry gets
one-on-one instruction. Sometimes parents watch videos that
Swartz has taped of their children to monitor their
"Derry will never be normal, but he's come so far,"