BURBANK, CA (June 10, 2008) – The growing autism crisis – which has recently drawn increasing national attention -- is addressed in a personal manner beginning in the June 24 episode of NBC's daytime drama “Days of our Lives” in an insightful story based on the experiences of the series' head writer, Dena Higley, who, with her husband has raised an autistic child of their own.
NBC joins with Autism Speaks, the nation's leading autism advocacy organization, to help convey a message of hope and useful information during the course of the storyline.
In the creative arc to continue through the summer, Dr. Lexie Carver (Renee Jones) and Commissioner Abe Carver (James Reynolds), are told their 3-year-old son, Theo, has autism. The news of Theo's diagnosis is understandably hard for the couple to comprehend, but through the love and support of family and friends, and the love for their son, they learn a lot about their family and how to cope with this tremendous, new challenge.
The Higleys' son, Connor, was diagnosed at age three. Now 19 years old, he recently graduated from high school. Higley and her husband's personal struggles and triumphs of raising a son with autism, plus three other children, are why she is so passionate about sharing her story -- one that hundreds of thousands of other American parents are also currently experiencing.
“We're telling the profound and life-altering story of a child with autism from his parents' point of view,” said head writer Higley. “Their pain, their struggle -- and ultimately, their ability to find life-affirming hope in the midst of learning how to live day to day with this disability. This is a personal story for me...as my husband and I have walked in the shoes Abe and Lexie are now about to walk in.”
"I am thrilled that "Days" has decided to take on this very important topic,” said Bruce Evans, NBC's Senior Vice President of Daytime and Drama Programming. “We are hopeful that this storyline will serve as a resource for our viewers, many of whom have already been touched by this critical issue."
“This storyline realistically portrays the emotional trauma that every family faces when a child is diagnosed with autism, yet it also opens a window for viewers to see the hope and achievements that are possible as a family pulls together," said Alison Singer, Executive Vice President of Communications and Awareness for Autism Speaks. "We are honored to work with 'Days of our Lives' and applaud the show's commitment to shine a bright spotlight on the autism crisis and its effects on the whole family."
In order to share the storyline responsibly, “Days of our Lives” has joined with Autism Speaks, the nation's leading nonprofit organization devoted to autism. The partnership between “Days of our Lives,” whose loyal audience extends across generations for over 42 years, and Autism Speaks will help promote awareness about a disorder that is diagnosed in one in every 150 children in the United States.
Seven-time Emmy-nominated writer, Dena Higley, began her career at “Days of our Lives” in 1985, where she was a staff writer for 19 years. In 2008, she returned to “Days of our Lives” to become head writer.
Higley is married to Mark, her husband of 21 years, and together they have raised four children -- two biological and two adopted. Their eldest, son Connor, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. Now 19, Connor drives his own Mustang, has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, recently graduated from high school and is preparing to go to college in Florida in the fall. Jensen, their second oldest, now 18 years old, is about to enter USC as a theater major. Helio, their third eldest, was adopted in 2003 from Ethiopia at age 8, and is now 13 years old and going into 7th grade. Adelle, the youngest, was adopted from Vietnam at 17 months in 1997 with her right leg missing below the knee and her fingers fused together. She is now a cheerleader, plays volleyball and is graduating from sixth grade.
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism, and to advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. Wright also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, RAND Corporation and Mission Product, LLC. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
About "Days of our Lives"
NBC's "Days of our Lives" celebrated its 42nd year on the air in November 2007 and has already garnered numerous Emmy Awards and nominations, as well as multiple "Soap Opera Digest" and "People's Choice" Awards. The show's success derives from its consistent commitment to excellence in writing and storytelling -- supported by a diverse ensemble of performers -- and an uncanny knack for anticipating viewer interests. Set in the fictitious Midwestern town of Salem, the core families, the Hortons and the Bradys, are part of an eternal saga that can include anything from demonic possessions and serial killers to genre traditions such as baby switches, amnesia and classic love triangles.
"Days of our Lives" is produced by Corday Productions, Inc., in association with Sony Pictures Television.