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The Right Place for Patrick : Living With an Autistic Child Is Painful, but Getting Him Into a Regular School Can Be Traumatic

February 24, 1991|KATHLEEN DOHENY | Kathleen Doheny writes frequently about health and medicine.

On the ride home from preschool, Patrick sits in the back seat of Mary's Subaru. His eyes seem to take in flashing bits of foliage as Mary maneuvers the car over the twisting roads. He begins humming in a low monotone.

Once home, Mary remembers to tell Channing about a previous day's incident. On the way home from preschool, Patrick had cried out, "Mommy! Trees! Beautiful trees!" The speech wasn't quite clear, Mary admits, but she understood.

The Rudds have learned to appreciate such small bits of progress, to measure success in new words or phrases or a slightly longer attention span. "And Patrick is developing a sense of humor," Mary says happily. At preschool, the teacher's aide held up an umbrella with a curved handle and asked Patrick to identify it. "The number 6!" he replied devilishly, laughing at his wit. "He thinks he's a scream," Mary says.

The Rudds' attention now is focused on March 15. Looking too much farther into the future is frightening, they say. But they know they must, eventually.

Ten or 15 years from now, what do they see and hope for Patrick?

Mary wrestles with the question. "I change (my mind) from day to day," she says. "My hope is that Patrick will be in some kind of normal academic situation."

Like many other families with autistic children, the Rudds say the thought of placing Patrick in an institution--a good choice for some autistic people, experts say--is too sobering to consider now. "The ultimate would be for Patrick to live on his own," Mary says. "Realistically, I don't think that's going to happen.

"In 10 years," she says softly, "I just hope we are all still together."

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