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A father with autism deals with his son's diagnosis

John Hall will share his experiences and answer questions about autism this Saturday in Burbank for Autism Awareness Month.

April 17, 2012|By Maria Hsin, maria.hsin@latimes.com

John Hall is a successful entrepreneur and is earning his doctorate in education from USC. He's married, 37, and has two kids.

By all accounts, Hall has a successful life. And all of it despite an early childhood diagnosis that could have set him on a completely different path, had he not had an intense intervention.

At the age of 2, Hall was diagnosed as being autistic, or at that time, “mentally retarded.”

“I exhibited all the signs of classic autism,” Hall said in an interview this week.

As a toddler, he said he failed to make eye contact, could spend two to three hours at a time flipping light switches on and off or flushing the toilet.

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“I didn't respond to my name. I had no interest in engaging with anyone or my parents,” Hall said.

But for about four years after his diagnosis, Hall was involved in a “very intensive, early intervention” program.

“I slowly began to come out of it — whatever was going on with me,” Hall said.

His journey out of the autism treatment regimen as a child and his life since then is chronicled in his book, “Am I Still Autistic? How a Low-Functioning, Slightly Retarded Toddler Became CEO of a Multi-Million Dollar National Corporation,” which he plans to discuss at an event in Burbank on Saturday in honor of national Autism Awareness Month.

His parents insisted he be “mainstreamed” when he started first grade in the Santa Monica Unified School District in 1981, something that was unheard of then, Hall said.

Throughout elementary school, Hall struggled to keep up with his schoolmates, but he eventually succeeded.

He was better at making eye contact, but not great, Hall said. His speech improved, but junior high school was rough as well, he said.

“By 11th grade, I was feeling like I was a normal kid, so to speak,” Hall said. “I didn't know I was autistic. It was not well known at the time. It wasn't a specific term I heard until college.”

But Hall was left searching for answers with his son's autism diagnosis at 18 months.

“I saw the writing on the wall,” Hall said. “You hear in the media about autism, but it's not real until you're diagnosed. It was the worst day of my life — all hopes and dreams flew out the window.”

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