An upcoming presentation on Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism, proved so popular that registration has already closed, but the organizer promises to hold another session early next year.
Kris Jones of Danville, who wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until his late 20s, is scheduled to share his story Tuesday evening (Nov. 30) at the Champaign Public Library. The free workshop was organized by East Central Illinois LEAP -- Linking Educators, Administrators and Parents -- a study group of the Illinois Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Formed several years ago, the group examines methods to help children with learning challenges.
LEAP coordinator Marilyn Kay said she was taken aback by the response to the mailing she sent out to educators and parents about Jones' presentation.
"Obviously this is a hot topic," she said. "We've never had to put limits on before."
Jones, who was featured in an April News-Gazette article, will share his story about growing up with a learning difference. He also provides information for parents and teachers about how to recognize some of the symptoms so they can provide help and encouragement to other children.
His message: It is OK to be different and to be proud of who you are.
In the News-Gazette story, Jones said he always knew he was different growing up, but didn't know why.
His mother, Janice Jones, noticed that Kris would develop intense interests as a child -- in puzzles or Star Wars, for example. It didn't seem out of the ordinary to her, but he also had sensory issues -- hating tags on his clothes or certain textures of food.
Still, he had friends and socialized well, and while others thought he was different, he wasn't bullied, she told The News-Gazette.
His differences became more pronounced in high school, when he would rather stay home and play games alone than go to social events. Conversations tended to be "long and very one-sided," focusing on a single subject to the exclusion of others, something he works to control now.
A local doctor made the Asperger´s diagnosis when Kris Jones was in his late 20s. Both mother and son were relieved to give it a name.
His special interests continue -- over the years, he has collected more than 2,400 records and another 2,000 cassettes. Earlier, he was into baseball statistics, and now he is collecting coins and stamps from as many countries as he can.
But he also holds a bachelor´s degree in journalism and speech communications from Eastern Illinois University, with a minor in public relations, and went on to earn a master's in creative writing as well. His thesis was “Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum,” about growing up with Asperger's.
Now in his 30s, he worked until recently in the registrar's office at Eastern, commuting to Charleston from Tilton, where he lives with his parents.
Kay, retired founder of The Reading Group in Urbana, said many children with dyslexia have other "hidden problems" that haven't been diagnosed, including autism and Asperger's.
"We need to know enough about autism so that we can refer them to people who can help them," she said.
One of the people who registered for Tuesday's talk is a fourth-grade teacher with two students who show signs of autism.
"He was very concerned about being able to help them in the best way possible," she said.
Kay said LEAP will hold another session on autism and Asperger's syndrome in early 2011. For information, contact Kay at 367-0398, or check with your school office.