Navigating Autism

A Family Finds its Fortune in Helping Others

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Greg Carr, his wife, Aileen, and children, left to right, Mitchell, Patricia and Caroline outside The Uncommon Thread, the early-intervention center they established in Stirling, N.J.

TEN-YEAR-OLD MITCHELL CARR bounds in the door of his parents’ office. “Hi,” he says, greeting people in the reception area. “Is my dad here?” he asks, running up the stairs without waiting for an answer. His footsteps echo down the upstairs hallway leading to his father’s office.

“Hi, Dad,” he says excitedly.

“Hey, son,” Greg Carr ’83 greets him with equal enthusiasm. “How was school?”

Mitchell answers with an elaborate report about his day.

The slender, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, sporting a gray newsboy hat with ear flaps, is like any other child his age. He has lots of friends, enjoys school—most of the time—plays soccer and basketball, and takes piano and karate lessons. Playful and energetic, he seems ready to take on the world. There’s just one difference: Mitchell is autistic.

AUTISM CHANGES EVERY family it touches, but few are transformed as completely as the Carrs. Their journey with autism led them to establish The Uncommon Thread, a nonprofit early-intervention resource center for children with autism and related disorders. At their center in Stirling, N.J., the Carrs have created an individualized educational environment where early intervention becomes a comprehensive strategy between parents, specialists, therapists and educators to combat the debilitating effects of disorders such as autism. Teaching a child with autism “requires such a colossal effort from so many people,” says Greg’s wife, Aileen. It was a lesson learned through personal experience.

Greg, a marketing major while at SU, was a successful entrepreneur in the technology expense management industry when Mitchell was born. He had built his company, Teledata Control Inc., from a start-up with one employee to an enterprise that was managing 270 employees and $27 million a year in revenues. Aileen, who also studied marketing in college, was busy caring for Mitchell and his older sister, Caroline, now 12. Life was good for the Carrs. They were living the proverbial American dream. But that dream was shattered when Mitchell began exhibiting atypical behavior.

The Carrs noticed that he wasn’t developing verbal skills. He wouldn’t make eye contact with people or let anyone hug him. He developed repetitive behavior patterns and threw tantrums that would last most of the day. At first, Greg was reluctant to admit there was a problem. But by the time their youngest child, Patricia, now 8, was born, it was apparent something was wrong.

He was pretty bad,” Aileen says. “We had one neurologist tell us he was one of the worst cases he’d ever seen.”

Unwilling to accept defeat, Greg and Aileen took Mitchell to several other neurologists for answers. He was 26 months old when they got his diagnosis and the medical advice that came with it: They could have the greatest impact on their son’s development between the ages of 2 and 4. “All we could think was, ‘We lost the first two months,’” Aileen says. But those lost months only fueled their determination more. As Aileen puts it, “We got a real quick education in autism.”

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