When my daughter Mary was diagnosed with autism in 1995,” says actor Gary
Cole, “all I had to go on was RainMan.” Today, an
estimated one in 150 American children under age 8 are diagnosed with autism or
related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome -- all with symptoms such as an
inability to relate to others, the insistence on rigid routines, and engaging
in repetitive behaviors. “It seems you can ask any friend, any relative,” says
Cole, “and they’ll be able to tell you about someone they know with autism. Or
direct you to a good doctor who can help.”
Best known for playing a hilariously toxic boss in 1999’s comedy film
Office Space, as well as uber-agent Ari Gold’s oldest friend and newest
hire on HBO’s hit Entourage, Cole is happy to use his fame as a platform
to help other parents facing what can be a challenging diagnosis. The actor
supports The Help Group and Autism Speaks, two organizations that work to meet
educational needs for autistic kids and their families, raise funds for global
biomedical research to find a cure, and promote awareness -- with
increased efforts in April, Autism Awareness Month.
I began noticing something was different about my son, Matthew, when he was
about two years old. He didn’t make good eye contact. Noise bothered him. He
had trouble with some of his motor skills, such as using a spoon.
He was also having a tough time at day care. He’d cry when I dropped him
off. He couldn’t relate to other kids. He would get bothered if toys got out of
order. And he clapped a lot, more than normal. When I look back at pictures of
him at that age, he looked really sad, really...
When a child has autism, “your original agenda as a parent is set aside,”
says Cole. He and his wife, actor Teddi Siddall, first noticed something was
amiss with Mary, now 16, when she was nearly 2 years old. They started their
daughter on a variety of therapies. “Mary didn’t process information like you
or I do, and did not pick up on social cues,” says Cole, who believes the most
important thing parents can do if they suspect something is going on with their
child is to “seek answers, and the earlier the better.”
With the help of a personal aide, Mary successfully attended public
elementary and middle schools in Studio City, Calif., and now goes to a special
learning facility for her high school years, run by The Help Group.