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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Families find refuge, support at Seattle clinic


By Sonia Krishnan
Seattle Times

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Debbie Krenzler of Bothell, Wash., has struggled as a single parent to find the best way to raise her autistic son, Garrett Moore, 17.

DEAN RUTZ | Seattle Times

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Debbie Krenzler does not expect people to understand.

When her son, Garrett Moore, starts screaming in public and she has to hold him down with her arms and legs crossed over him like a wrestler, even though he's 17 and nearly 6 feet tall, and she's 54 and 6 inches shorter, no, she does not expect much in the way of sympathy.

To understand autism, you have to live with it. So she endures the stares and the "what-a-bad-mother" whispers. She just wishes they knew about the good moments. Like the time last year, when Moore joined a peer group for autistic children in Seattle.

The handful of teenagers learned various skills: How to make a phone call, deal with bullies, and calm down in stressful situations.

"Mom, they like me," Moore said. It was the first time he felt accepted by other kids.

And it was the first time Krenzler felt like they had finally found the right place for help.

TREATING THE WHOLE FAMILY

The University of Washington CARE Clinic in Seattle provides diagnostic, treatment and support services for those affected by neurodevelopmental disorders. This includes autism, mental retardation and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

The philosophy is this: Without a strong foundation at home, an autistic person's chances at success greatly diminish. That's why the center offers couples counseling, parent coaching, individual therapy, and in-home support, said administrator Mari Stobbe. "Our approach is very much the whole family," she said. "We know that autism affects everyone ... and everyone very differently."

There is no age limit Stobbe said the clinic treats people from "3 to 103" and it keeps fees low to make treatment accessible.

Tara Lewis' 12-year-old son, Elliott, starting showing signs of autism when he was around 2. He walked late, withdrew into himself, and started losing whatever language facility he'd had.

Then there were the outbursts. "He'd throw these amazing fits," said Lewis, a mother of three.

Elliott's disorder, diagnosed as a type of mid-functioning autism, strained every relationship in the family. The Bothell, Wash., couple sought help at the center seven years ago. They wanted Elliott to meet other autistic children.

But to her surprise, Lewis said, the whole family ended up benefiting.

"The people here have become like family," she said.

Krenzler's marriage did not survive her son's autism. It crumbled in 1995, when Moore was 3, and she was left with raising him as a single mom. Nothing prepared her for what it would feel like when Moore would start one of his fits, punching and biting her. There used to be shame and embarrassment and frustration.

Now she has a compassionate therapist, someone who really "gets" what autism does to a family, she said. And Moore has found a place with other kids like him.