Daily Herald
Autism Speaks walks to show of solidarity
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/15/2010 12:00 AM

Mark LaNeve's sons remind him every day how capricious autism can be.

Though his 18-year-old sons are identical twins, and both have autism spectrum disorders, they are very different.

Drew is very high-functioning, attending a specialized school and learning at a high school level. He hopes to go on to college-level classes, though he's still learning how to interact socially with other kids.

Jake reads and writes and talks, but is more strongly affected and will need lifelong support.

They demonstrate that autism's solutions are not one-size-fits-all, but must fit each of the one-in-100 youths diagnosed with symptoms.

Their father moved to Glenview last fall to become the new chief marketing officer of Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook.

He will speak on behalf of his sons this Saturday at the Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser at Soldier Field.

Both boys participated in previous Autism Speaks fundraisers in Detroit, where LaNeve worked for General Motors. Both boys remain in school there for now with their mother Paula, and may remain there, because Michigan provides schooling for them up to age 26, LaNeve said, whereas Illinois only provides special schooling to age 21.

But Drew will be in Chicago for the event on a field trip with his school.

In a recent interview, LaNeve explained why he's participating and what his sons have taught him:

Q: What have you learned about autism from your sons?

A: "You learn humility and patience and not to take things for granted. And you learn to really celebrate the small victories.

It's benefitted me in the workplace, because there's nothing at work that scares me compared to the challenge of raising these two children.

My wife Paula does the lion's share of therapies and doctor visits.

We've made it our mission and our story to help these two kids as best we can, to operate at their maximum levels given their God-given abilities, and to help other families as best we can."

Q: What help do you hope to provide through Autism Speaks?

A: "It takes a lot of resources, and lots of families don't have the resources. The therapy and care and medications can be really insurmountable for a lot of families. A lot of charitable work I've done is to support families for housing, respite care, job placement, to make their lives as comfortable and productive as possible."

Q: What trends are there in autism research and treatment?

A: "A lot of work is being done on predisposition (to autism) in the body and environmental triggers. ABA, applied behavior analysis, involves intense therapy to reshape the brain upon diagnosis, usually at age 2 or 3. If you get intensive treatment, four to five hours a day, which is very expensive, it has a tremendous positive outcome for the kids."

"Every year there are more resources available. When you're a parent of an autistic child, what you really want is hope, and there are lots of reasons to be hopeful."

Last year's Walk Now For Autism Speaks attracted 15,000 participants and raised $1.5 million. This year's event starts with registration at 8 a.m., opens at 10 a.m., and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m.

Children are invited to enjoy the petting zoo, bounce houses, fire truck and fire simulation house, and snacks from Uno Chicago Grill and concessions. For more information, see walknowforautismspeaks.org/chicago.