Meet Drew


Since Toys ‘R' Us announced its partnership with Autism Speaks in March (read more here), the retailer has received an outpouring of personal stories about the impact of autism on the lives of its customers and its employees. Here's the story of one associate and his family.

Living with autism is a full time job. Just ask Troy and his wife, Theresa, who feel their entire family has the neurological disorder because autism affects them all. The couple are raising two children with special needs in Gastonia, NC. Their son Drew has autism.

There were signs early on that Drew was developing differently than his peers. He would stare off into the distance for 30 seconds at a time, constantly line blocks up in a row on the table top, and repeat hand motions in front of his face over and over. But it wasn't until Drew completely stopped talking after developing basic speech at a normal age that his parents truly began to worry. “We spent a year thinking maybe he was hard of hearing or deaf,” explained Troy, citing a common reason that autism diagnoses are delayed.

Troy and Theresa did as much research as they could and fought to get Drew into the right therapy programs and seen by the right doctors. But most doctors couldn't—or wouldn't—give them a clear diagnosis. It wasn't until they connected with a neurologist that Drew was finally diagnosed with autism when he was 3-years-old.

They were in a state of disbelief. Like many parents, Troy and Theresa blamed themselves. While trying to be strong for their son, they tried to think of what they may have done wrong, even wondering whether chemicals Troy had been exposed to while serving in Desert Storm were the cause. They were stuck in a state of “why me?”

After Drew's diagnosis, family members had different reactions. Some distanced themselves, while others offered help right away. Since the initial shock, all have come to understand the disorder and help as best they can. It took about a year before acceptance set in, motivating Troy and Theresa to became the autism advocates they are today.

They had been active members of Cure Autism Now for years, prior to the organization's merger with Autism Speaks, and will be actively fundraising—and walking—to support the Carolinas Walk Now for Autism event on October 6.

That energy has also helped Troy and Theresa learn and fight for their rights as parents of an autistic child. Services have to be asked for repeatedly; people do not volunteer them. Drew is in an “inclusion” setting at school, going to some regular classes and getting a personal aide for other courses in the special education classroom. They had to push hard to get an aide for Drew—but they got someone, and are seeing positive results.

Drew is now thirteen and in the eighth grade. He is a visual learner and watches everything with closed captioning. If you tell him to put his shoes on, he will not understand, but if you point to his feet, he will know what to do. He loves being outdoors and is a computer whiz with a fantastic memory.

Recently, his teachers sent home a two-page paper he wrote during free time in computer class. When Troy and his wife took a closer look, they realized he had written the credits from the Disney movie Bambi from start to finsh, all from memory. He had every word in its place, and every credit, position and name correct. It's a hobby of his. He also knows the entire movie dialoge from beginning to end.

As a daily reminder of how special Drew is, and of where his priorities lie, Troy has four puzzle pieces tattooed on his arm to show how puzzling this disorder is. It is a symbol of his family's daily struggles, triumphs and love.