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A letter from an alum about raising children with autism

October 8, 2003

I send my heartfelt thanks to Kristina Chew for her article, "An Unexpected Childhood," in the September 10 PAW. She is an autism mom. I am an autism grandmom to a delightful little fellow named Joseph.

Joseph and his family live about 100 miles from us but because Grandpop (James W. Sayre ’37) was an invalid, they would come to our home to visit. Joey would stand by Grandpop's huge electric chair and pat his knee, looking up with his shining brown eyes and smiling. He is a little boy who is easy to love.

Let us all be aware and open our hearts to these special children, for they share with us a special gift.

Elaine Sayres (Mrs. James) s’37

Aitkin, Minn.

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September 19, 2003

Thank you for Kristina Chew's touching piece on raising her son Charlie and dealing with the devastating diagnosis of autism. She succeeded in giving a voice and putting a face on a disorder that is often misunderstood. Autism can affect anyone; it knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries and there is no cure. It affects an entire family, not just an individual, for a lifetime.

I should know. Growing up with a sibling with a developmentally disability influenced me profoundly. Everything from my thesis topic (a survey of mentally "deficient" characters in literature) to my choice of professions (director of development for the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community or Cosac) has been inspired by my brother.

At Cosac, an organization that provides information, advocacy and support for parents like Kristina, I am reminded everyday of how autism forces families to revaluate their expectations. Authors like William Faulkner and John Steinbeck recognized this powerful symbolism and created literary masterpieces in The Sound and the Fury and Of Mice and Men, respectively. What others saw as deficits, they saw as poetic. So does Kristina. As she so powerfully conveys, children like Charlie offer a new perspective and profound appreciation of even the smallest of accomplishments. Thank you for letting her share her story with others.

Ellen Schisler ’90
Director of Development
The New Jersey Center for Outreach & Services for the Autism Community (COSAC)
1450 Parkside Avenue, Suite 22
Ewing, NJ 08638


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