CLEVELAND – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in 54 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
16-year-old Paul Witzigreuter was diagnosed with a moderate form of autism when he was two years old.
“Paul is spunky. He’s funny. He has a lot of energy. Just, in general, good natured,” said Amy Witzigreuter, Paul’s mother.
Soon after his diagnosis, Paul’s parents enrolled him in Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner School for Autism.
“He started as a little boy who couldn’t communicate, was easily frustrated and having tantrums, didn’t know how to play with any toys, didn’t know how to use objects functionally,” said Allison Benedict of Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
“He was nonverbal so they first taught him to eat and then his name,” said Dan Witzigreuter, Paul’s father.
Research shows young children with autism benefit from early intervention. Over the years, Paul has developed adaptive skills and learned how to communicate and socialize.
“We still think he has a lot of room for growth,” Amy said. “But the things we’re working on now are so different — independent living and maybe he can have a job where he attends for two hours at a time.”
That’s where the family business comes in – a granola company inspired by Paul’s dietary challenges.
“He does a variety of things. He uses the ‘best by’ date gun. Recently he’s been filling some of the bags, which is a big deal because he has to have gloves on and he has to use a scale,” said Amy.
Paul has also overcome two organ transplants – a kidney and liver. But you’d never know the adversity he’s faced by his happy, helpful demeanor.
“He really is, kind of, sweet and simple and pure,” Amy said. “He has come a long way and it’s still like he’s smiling all the time, he’s totally in the present, I mean, we should all live this way.”
Paul’s family says they try to stay one step ahead of his autism with programs and experiences to help him grow and learn new skills. They hope he continues to work at the family business, and one day live as independently as possible