Doug Flutie Sr., 49, reaches his goals on the field and off. "For whatever reason, people have the feeling I can get things done," the Heisman Trophy winner says. Maybe they remember the former quarterback's famous heart-stopping, last-second Hail Mary pass in 1984 to win the Orange Bowl for Boston College.
But for families with children who have autism, Flutie's can-do mojo scores highest with the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Flutie and his wife, Laurie, established it in 2000 to honor son Doug Jr., known as Dougie, who has childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), a very rare autism spectrum disorder.
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...
A Canadian study suggests one to six children in 100,000 may have CDD. Like Dougie, they develop normally for at least two years but then lose some or most language, motor, and social skills. Genetics or the body's autoimmune system could play a role, but scientists aren't sure. Dougie, now 20 and 6 feet tall, is termed "low functioning" -- he learns at a very slow pace, says Flutie, but does go to school.
To date, the Fluties have raised more than $13 million to support families affected by autism spectrum disorders, which are among the fastest-growing developmental disabilities in children and adults in the United States. The foundation funds national advocacy, educational, therapeutic, and recreational programs. For National Autism Awareness Month, the foundation's members and other organizations involved with Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts will visit Boston on April 9, the state's Autism Awareness Day, to remind legislators about the importance of critical services and support for families who need them.
Throughout the year, the foundation hosts numerous fund-raisers, some of which Dougie attends. "People really connect with him," says his proud dad. "We give comfort to families so they feel like they're not alone."