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A Father and Son’s Inspiring ‘Battle’ With Autism

“We continued against all odds, and he got better.”

Chris Davis was born with “one of the worst diagnoses ever,” says his father, Bill, in the video below. He was self-injurious, had swollen intestines, mental retardation, severe autism, Crohn’s disease, and more. “He hit the walls, the table … We couldn’t have the have lights on … If I coughed he would run downstairs and punch me. He never slept, never ate.” But Bill Davis and his wife refused to give up on him.

They embarked on a “battle” to educate, study, and provide therapists, and they eventually turned their home into a school—one of the first centers for applied behavioral analysis (ABA). ABA is a broad term for a therapy that is used to ingrain over time and repetition “socially significant behaviors” like communication, social skills, academic studies, motor skills, toileting, dressing, eating, personal self-care, domestic skills, and work skills.

“We began teaching … if I could hug him it would be the greatest gift in life. We continued against all odds, and he got better.”

According to statistics gathered by the Autism Society, the prevalence of autism in American children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68), and over 35 million people live with autism spectrum disorder in the United States alone.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in 2007 that children who received ABA “have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains,” but the success rates of ABA are hard to measure and highly contentious.

Regardless, individual success stories abound on the internet, including that of the Davis family. “The thing I’ve learned most is to be a parent,” says Bill Davis. “I was able to love unconditionally … I never thought of him as a poor broken human being that we need to cure. He’s not sick.”

Bill and Chris Davis are subjects in Andrew Solomon’s far-reaching book Far From the Tree. This video is part of a series of companion videos for the book.

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