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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Kane'ohe mother launches walk for autism awareness

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer

Kalma Wong constantly searches for ways to help her 4-year-old son, Dylan Wong-Miyasato, learn more and live better despite a diagnosis of autism, a puzzling neurological disorder that shows up in toddlers.

Kalma Wong founded a local organization after learning that her son Dylan Wong-Miyasato, front center, has autism. Dylan's siblings are, from top left, Kara, Alec and Leigh.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Kane'ohe mother's push to keep her son safe and happy has made her do things she had never expected to, including:

  • Stripping down his room to a mattress on the floor, barred windows with no curtains or screens to break and no bookcases or dressers to climb.
  • Working with state health and education officials and various learning specialists to keep him in an intensive repetitive learning environment during these crucial early years.
  • Founding the local chapter of Cure Autism Now and organizing its first fund-raising walk this month.

Wong knows now that many families are coping with autism, the term used to describe various serious neurological disorders that can severely impair speech, learning and communication.

Nationwide, officials have charted a sharp increase in the number of cases of autism in recent years, from 44 cases per 100,000 live births in 1980 to 208 cases per 100,000 live births in 1994.

Cure Autism Now Walk

• Saturday at Ala Moana Park/Magic Island

• Check-in and community resource fair, 7:30 to 8:30 a.m.

• Opening ceremony, 8:30 to 9 a.m.

• 5K walk (3.1 miles) 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• To register, visit www.walknow.org or call (888) 8AUTISM (828-8476) or Kalma Wong at 235-4411.

Wong said she first suspected Dylan might be autistic when he was 2 and didn't talk much and wouldn't look her in the eye. But her pediatrician didn't agree, and she first worked with a speech therapist before pressing for other tests.

Despite the difficulties, she appreciates the good times. "Dylan is really a happy child who is a great bundle of energy," she said.

Wong said she and her husband, Ken Miyasato, see improved speech and behavior with Dylan with help from the state departments of Health and Education.

There have been efforts to study a possible link between a childhood vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella with the disease; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said no connection has been proved. There is no known cure.

Wong said she hopes the walk will lead to more awareness and to a cure.

She said the illness has forced her older children — Kara, 8; and Alec, 6 — to grow up faster to help care for their brother. And they spend less time out as a family because it is difficult to keep an eye on Dylan at every moment, especially now with younger sister Leigh, who is 2.

She said intensive training does work but it can be exhausting. Basically, when something is taught, it's reinforced with a toy, a hug, a treat. She spent one summer at swimming lessons with her older girl, teaching Dylan "look at me" and rewarding him with raisins.

It paid off. "He does speak a little now. He knows a lot more. He can identify colors, shapes, numbers. He follows directions a little. It takes a lot of prompting," she said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.

Correction: Kara Wong's name was misspelled in the photo caption in a previous version of this story.