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Star power sheds light on autism

Ed Asner, who voiced the lead character in Pixar adventure, will speak at Costa Mesa fundraiser.

March 26, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Actor Ed Asner attends the 45th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Feb. 22 in Pasadena.
Actor Ed Asner attends the 45th NAACP Image Awards presented… (John Sciulli, Getty…)

Ed Asner was in the throes of a custody battle when a psychologist examining the family remarked that his son seemed to lack empathy.

Two weeks later, doctors at UCLA's Center for Autism Research and Treatment revealed that Charles, then 7 or 8, was on the autism spectrum.

"I thought he was utterly charming, and I was in love with him," Asner, 84, said. "I was his slave, so I don't care what title you put on it. He was my boy and I would do whatever I had to do to treat him."

Today, his boy is 26 years old, and the Emmy recipient and former Screen Actors Guild president also has a grandson, Will, who is similarly afflicted, although to a different extent. A longtime supporter of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, Asner finds that people living with the disorder have wonderful qualities — including phenomenal brain power and honesty — that more than make up for their struggles with interpersonal relationships.

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"They believe there's a pony in the tent someplace," he said, deeming such people "a motherlode of discovery."

On Wednesday, the Santa Ana-based Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders will host Asner at "Autism and the Arts" from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Center Club in Costa Mesa. To commemorate World Autism Awareness Day, the actor, known for his portrayal of newsman Lou Grant on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and voice-over work in Pixar's "Up," will discuss his association with the condition as well as the therapeutic effects of art on autistic children.

The invitation-only fundraiser will kick off with a reception, followed by the screening of "Through the Heart of Tango," a documentary in which students living with autism and Down syndrome connect through dance. Afterward, Asner will take the stage for questions and answers, and Joseph Donnelly, pediatric neurologist and Center for Autism medical director, will conclude the event with a speech.

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder and pervasive developmental disorder, is marked by difficulties with communication and social skills development as well as repetitive patterns of behavior. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 88 children in the United States is on the spectrum.

Studies also indicate that autism is four to five times more prevalent among boys than girls, with approximately 1 in 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls being diagnosed.

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