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Wallet Worries: Overhaul's Impact on You; Iraq Cease-Fire; Iran Helps End Fighting; Signs of Autism

Aired March 31, 2008 - 11:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. Top of the hour.
Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Tony Harris.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, hello, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen, sitting in for Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: And developments keep coming into the CNN NEWSROOM on Monday, the 31st day of March.

Here's what's on the rundown.

NGUYEN: Take a look.

Possible tornadoes slam Oklahoma just a few hours ago. And there is another round of severe storms that is likely to hit this afternoon.

HARRIS: Right in the middle of the nation's housing crisis, the HUD secretary quits the Bush cabinet.

What's up with that?

NGUYEN: And autism -- how does a parent know? We're unraveling the mystery all this week in the NEWSROOM.

NGUYEN: Boy, a story we've been following throughout the morning -- severe weather threatening the Midwest. Take a look at these pictures.

You can see the damage in one Oklahoma City neighborhood hit by a suspected tornado. Thousands left without power in that area. So far, no reports of injuries. Those storms also causing some flooding in Oklahoma and Texas.

Here are more new pictures in to CNN from the Oklahoma City area. You can see roads completely, Betty, washed out.

NGUYEN: Yes. Storms and flooding, all of this continuing across the plains and the Midwest. And we're going to continue to check in on this and get you the latest with meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in just a moment, as we continue to track all of this and some other news that is popping up. You know, when the weather does become the news, remember to send your iReports to CNN. And then you can go to and click on "iReport," or type into your cell phone. But remember to stay safe doing that.

And in the meantime, though, as you're gathering that information, we're going to gather some more for you, because we have Jacqui Jeras ready to go for us.

HARRIS: All right.

NGUYEN: You've been busy.


HARRIS: Watch boxes, warnings boxes...

NGUYEN: All of this going on today. Yes.

HARRIS: ... everything else.

JERAS: And speaking of iReports, you know, I want to give some iReports of some of the hail that's been going on in Oklahoma. Like the size of baseballs. So, that's my personal request, if our viewers can do that. But of course, always stay safe.

We do have a couple of tornadoes possibly on the ground as we speak. Some new warnings just issued.

Still an extension here of this one up towards Humansville. And then also here, the new warnings. These include Lawrence and Jasper and Dade and Green and Polk counties. And we just got word with this storm here that a wall cloud was spotted near Highway 96 and 97 near Scott City.

This was a trainspotter. You might be asking yourself, what's a wall cloud? Well, it's the part of a super cell thunderstorm that would produce a tornado. So, if there's a tornado with this storm right now, it's hitting right over Scott City. So you need to be taking shelter immediately.

And look at all the lightning here, too, associated with that storm system. Here you can see on our radar, the rotation that's being indicated there. That's those little swirls. And both of these storms are pushing up to the north and east.

Here you can see some of the towns being affected here. At 10:07 Dadeville. There you can see Walnut Grove at 10:15. And 10:25, Sackville will be seeing the worst part of the rotation of that storm system.

Now, we've got a watch in effect, which means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to occur. And that includes you from Oklahoma City, extending all the way up through central parts of Missouri, past Springfield here, and just south of Kansas City. And Kansas City, you could get in on some of these nasty storms as well later on this afternoon.

This system will continue to spread up to the north and east. So, watch out, St. Louis. Watch out Chicago this afternoon. Large hail and damaging winds, and that bright red spot is where we have the worst concern of the tornadoes.

And widespread flooding, we've seen the pictures out of Texas and Louisiana. And the ground is so saturated here. So, all this rain, dumping down maybe one to three inches, is really going to aggravate the flooding situation.

So turn around, don't drown. Don't drive through it.

HARRIS: That's it. That's the line, yes. Yes.

JERAS: Remember it. Live it. Learn it.

NGUYEN: Well, people see that water, they don't know how deep it is, and they think, oh, I can make it.


NGUYEN: And then oftentimes they don't. At least their car doesn't.

All right. Thank you, Jacqui.

HARRIS: Your wallet, the nation's economy, issue #1. And there is more mixed news today. Another roller-coaster ride on Wall Street this last day of the fiscal quarter.

A big -- well, a big jump, and then a drop at the start. And then a recovery. And, OK, we're in positive territory now, with the Dow up seven.

U.S. motorists buckle up. Prices at the pump hit another milestone. AAA says it is now at almost $3.29 a gallon. That is more than 61 cents above the price we were paying a year ago.

And last hour, huge news on overhauling the nation's financial system. The Bush administration announces the most ambitious plan since the Great Depression.

NGUYEN: All right. So let's get some checks and balances on that. You know, this overhaul would mean big changes from Wall Street to your neighborhood bank.

So here to break it down is CNN Senior Business Correspondent Ali Velshi.

When people hear this, the first thing they want to know is, how does this affect me?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm liberally borrowing from all sorts of peoples who have been commentators on this over the course of the weekend, because it's a big, chewy (ph), more than 200-page overhaul of the financial system.

Now, the financial system in America has grown so much since the Great Depression. There's one agency that regulates banks, another one that regulates savings and loan, another few that regulate stock trading. And so the idea here is it's going to sort of consolidate some of that.

And someone said today that it's a bit like reorganizing the fire department. Right? That's really important to you. It may not necessarily address how quickly the fire truck gets to your house, but the fire department needs to be organized. And that's basically what this is.

This is a restructuring of the behind-the-scenes administration, an oversight of the entire financial industry. It's something that's been in the works for about a year, drafting this document. It will probably take, by some accounts, more than one year, maybe several, to get this done, assuming the Congress and all of them get on board with it. So, it's a complete overhaul of the way the financial system is regulated.

So there's no impact to you today. There's no particular impact on this particular mortgage crisis we're in, or this downturn.

In fact, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Betty, said that -- that these are not likely to have any effect on things that are going on right now. They are meant to make the system more responsive to problems down the road that maybe the Federal Reserve says, oh, there's a housing/mortgage crisis coming up. What can we do about this now?

So, long-term reorganizing of the way financial systems are regulated.

NGUYEN: So it's going to make the Federal Reserve the first responder. You know, and when people see this overhaul that we're talking about, they think more regulation, but, in fact, is there going to be less?

VELSHI: Well, I've also heard this described as more oversight. Let's say a bigger umbrella. But as one of my colleagues said, maybe a more porous umbrella. So, more oversight, not necessarily more regulation.

It's a streamlining of the various agencies and bodies that oversee the financial system. Another example I used earlier is that, you know, after 9/11, most Americans didn't realize there were so many organizations and agencies responsible for things that affect your security. Well, it's kind of like that. Most people won't realize there are so many bodies and agencies responsible for your financial security and how your finances are managed.

This is a sense of trying to bring -- you know, have fewer of those and at least get a sense of who is responsible for what. So that if the government does need to act, there's a better line -- chain of command as to how to do it. NGUYEN: Yes. And you know who to go straight to when there's a problem.

VELSHI: Who to go straight to, that's basically what this is.

NGUYEN: All right. Ali Velshi breaking it down for us.

We do appreciate it. Thank you.

HARRIS: The Bush administration struggling to deal with the housing crisis. Now this -- the nation's top housing official stepping down. The announcement coming just a short time ago from Housing and Urban Development secretary Alphonso Jackson.


ALPHONSO JACKSON, HUD SECRETARY: On April 18th, I will step down as the secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. There comes a time when one must attend diligently to personal and family matters. Now is such a time for me.


HARRIS: Jackson is under criminal investigation. He is fending off allegations of cronyism and awarding lucrative contracts. He didn't mention that in his statement.

President Bush issued a statement saying, "I have known Alphonso Jackson for many years, and I have known him to be a strong leader and a good man. I have accepted his resignation with regret."

Our money team has you covered. Hard at work right now. Whether it's jobs, debt housing, or savings, join us for a special report. It's called "ISSUE #1," the economy, all this week noon Eastern, only on CNN.

NGUYEN: Well, turned down by the Supreme Court. The nation's top justices say they've decided not to hear a case involving an FBI raid at the office of indicted Louisiana congressman William Jefferson.

The Democrat had been charged with bribery, and earlier an appeals court ruled part of the FBI search unconstitutional because agents looked at legislative documents. Now, the Justice Department hoped to get that ruling overturned, but the Supreme Court says it will sit this legal fight out.

HARRIS: Happening right now, the Pentagon is filing charges against a Guantanamo detainee suspected in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania. At least 11 people were killed in that attack, dozens of others injured. Officials expect Ahmed Ghailani to be charged with a war crime. If convicted, Ghailani could be sentenced to die.

NGUYEN: Iraq's government says the city of Basra is now under control. The curfew in Baghdad lifted, and we now know Iran was key to brokering this cease-fire.

Our Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Nic Robertson is in Baghdad.

Let's start with Nic.

Talk to me about how Iran helped make this happen.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, over the weekend, a delegation of Iraqi politicians from the United Iraqi Alliance -- that is the big Shia political bloc here -- five political parties, the prime minister's party, the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, his political party -- all went to Iran under Iranian government officials auspices, helped negotiate an end to the cease-fire. And let's look at what happened over the weekend.

Muqtada al-Sadr, at the beginning of the weekend, telling his militia not to put down their weapons. Less than 24 hours later, telling them to cooperate with government forces. An indication of the high level of pressure that the Iranians have exerted on Muqtada al-Sadr to end this current fighting.

And now his gunmen that were out on the streets of some suburbs of Baghdad, that were out on the streets of Basra just a couple of days ago, they're off the streets. Stores reopened in Basra, people out shopping in Basra. Normal life beginning to be restored, indications of the cease-fire beginning to hold -- Betty.

NGUYEN: All right. And the key is, how long will it hold? We'll be watching very closely for that.

Nic Robertson joining us live from Baghdad.

HARRIS: Well, you know, not everyone's convinced the Iraqi government has the upper hand.

Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon.

And Barbara, last hour Nic Robertson said the situation in Basra was essentially a standstill. Now the delegation meeting with Iranians to broker a deal.

What's to be made of all this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that, Tony, is exactly what the Pentagon is trying to figure out right now. We've spoken to several senior officials here with very direct knowledge of the situation. And let's be as charitable as we can -- they're skeptical.

They're very skeptical about this cease-fire, because the bottom line is, it shows what other players besides the Iraqi government, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iranians, the strings that they can pull to either have violence erupt on the streets within a matter of two days or so last week, or have it stopped, as this latest cease-fire arrangement appears to indicate. What officials here are looking at most closely, and what General David Petraeus is looking at, of course, is the cease-fire real?

You know, it was just on Friday that it was very well understood that Sadr's forces controlled some three-quarters of Basra itself. Now it all seems to be fine.

So, are they just sitting it out because of what the Iranians have said? Could they come back and fight another day? Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, make no mistake, has put all his cards on the table in the middle of this Shia inter-party struggle, if you will, and now has he really achieved success or is it all just being put off?

General Petraeus comes to Washington to testify in some eight days. By all accounts, he will not recommend any change in the withdrawal of the five surge brigades from Iraq. But everybody really waiting to see what happens next -- Tony.

HARRIS: This gets curiouser and curiouser.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, thank you.

NGUYEN: In other news, he is coming home. But not the way his parents had hoped. The body of Sergeant Matt Maupin of Ohio has been found in Iraq. It's been almost four years since insurgents attacked his convoy and abducted him.


CAROLYN MAUPIN, MOTHER OF MISSING SOLDIER: It hurts. It hurts. After you go through four years, almost four years of hope, and then this is what happens, it's like a letdown to me. So I'm trying to get through that right now.


NGUYEN: Maupin was 20 years old when he was captured in April 2004. A week later, he appeared on a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera, and then later another tape showed the execution of a person said to be Maupin, but his body was never found until now. The Defense Department says DNA tests confirm it is the missing Army reservist.

HARRIS: Learning about autism, it is a puzzle for the parents.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We felt something was not right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew the stereotypes of autism -- the Dustin Hoffman character in "Rain Man."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were just so many milestones that other children hit that he just did not hit.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRIS: The signs of autism you need to look for in your child.


NGUYEN: You know, we're looking to connect with your hearts and minds this week. Our series, "Autism: Unraveling the Mystery," is tied to the U.N.'s World Autism Awareness Day, which is Wednesday.

So, how do you know if your child may have the disorder? Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband and I both -- we felt something was not right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We knew the stereotypes of autism -- the Dustin Hoffman character in "Rain Man."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were just so many milestones that other children hit that he just did not hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought that maybe he had a speech delay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter how many times I changed the symptoms around or left one or two off, it kept coming back of autism.

CATHERINE TRAPANI, MARCUS INSTITUTE, ATLANTA: In the area of social communication, these are children who don't establish eye contact, they don't share common enjoyment. They don't offer comfort. They don't have the skills to approach a person, say hello, start a conversation, or interact in a game in an appropriate way.

JUDITH STEUBER, MOTHER WITH 2 AUTISTIC SONS: He was just finishing kindergarten when he started talking, which is not what other kids do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Children with autism don't necessarily develop expressive language skills. Many times, children who do have verbal expression make up own words, don't use pronouns appropriately, and have difficulty really understanding some of the common conversational language that we use in our society.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He kept washing his hands. He was flipping the light switch on and off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are kids who become obsessed with the garbage trucks, ceiling fans, stop signs, flag poles, sewer covers. Very strange things.

Other children, they have interest in lining things up, or playing with just very specific parts of toys -- spinning wheels on a car, or opening and closing doors, or switching lights on and off, or running from one room to the next. So the activity that they engage in is sort of a meaningless activity. JEFF CHIUSANO, FATHER WITH AUTISTIC SON: He would have horrible, horrible tantrums, an inability to calm down from those. Everything that we did, it affected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any time a behavior results in a tantrum, or in crying, or reestablishes the routine of the families, any time that child's behavior is really running the family, that certainly is a great red flag that something's wrong. Early intervention can really circumvent the development of those behaviors, and certainly early intervention can assist in minimizing those behaviors if the behaviors emerge.

CHIUSANO: It's remarkable how far he's come along. He now has complex speech. He interacts with other kids, and wants to. He can recognize social cues. He's funny. He has a personality. It is 180 degrees from where we were.




HARRIS: Well, CNN Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin joins us now with more on what is turning out to be a continuing investigation.

Over the last couple of weeks you have told us the story of safety concerns with Southwest Airlines. Last week it was American Airlines with some issues. And Delta.


HARRIS: And now United.

GRIFFIN: United Airlines releasing a statement this morning talking about the Airbus 320. And the real concern here is that the airline now says it has found three landing gears miswired on the Airbus 320.

Two of them involved accidents. They were non-fatal accidents, both involving sliding off the runway. One in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last month that slid -- an Airbus slid into a snow bank. The other one at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where two people were injured.

What the airline found was that the wiring was wired improperly. And that is a very serious concern. The NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, looking into this now, Tony.

United says, we've looked at all 97 of our A320s, they're all fine now. But the question is, who did the work? How did the wiring get messed up?

There are three of these planes involved in this. Sources are telling "The Chicago Tribune" it was an outside vendor. United has released a statement saying, you know, among other things, "Our primary responsibility is safety," but that "All of our maintenance work, whether performed in the U.S. or abroad, by United employees or partners, follows our FAA-approved maintenance program."

Just this week there are going to be congressional hearings looking at whether the FAA has enough people, has enough wherewithal to inspect the inspections process, which has become so outsourced in the airline industry. Here's further proof that that may not be the case at United Airlines.

HARRIS: And as you mentioned a moment ago, it looks like it's going to be a very busy spring and summer as well for you, keeping track of where this investigation is headed.

Drew, appreciate it. Thanks for the update.

GRIFFIN: You bet.

NGUYEN: Well, smack dab in the middle of the housing crisis, the housing secretary quits the Bush cabinet. So why now?


HARRIS: Just past the half hour. Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Heidi today.



NGUYEN: Well, open skies changing the face of international air travel. But what will it mean for your wallet?

Here's CNN's Richard Quest.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From anyplace on one side of the pond to anywhere on the other, that's the idea of open skies. Which as the European negotiator explained, means from this weekend rules that a decades-old will be swept away. It will allow Americans and European airlines to fly where they want.

(on camera): So any airline from here to any country in here and vice versa?


QUEST (voice-over): In short, national boundaries will no longer determine where planes can fly. Air France, for instance, will start flying from London to L.A. British Airways will soon be flying from Paris to New York.

CALLEJA: We are going to have more to offer, we are going to have more possibilities in terms of choice, in terms of reduction in the price of the tickets.

QUEST: This weekend is just the start of phase one. The Europeans still want more rights to fly within the United States and the right to buy U.S. airlines. So further negotiations are planned. If by 2010 no agreement's been reached, either side can cancel the whole treaty.

In Washington, the chief U.S. negotiator isn't worried that this will happen.

JOHN BYERLY, CHIEF NEGOTIATOR, STATE DEPARTMENT: There are ownership restrictions that are long encrusted in aviation lore and aviation law. We're going to tackle that issue in the second stage of negotiations. But when we do, it's going to be tough.

QUEST: More airlines crossing the atlantic doesn't necessarily mean cheaper tickets. The airlines have spent millions of dollars buying their slots and getting ready. And with oil at $100 a barrel, no one wants a price war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea that prices are going to be drastically reduced is well overdone. I think it will lead to somewhat lower fares. Economy fares already there are really some outstandingly attractive deals to get across the Atlantic. If you compare it mile for mile it's cheaper than flying low cost in Europe.

QUEST (on camera): Another Continental plane lands at Heathrow. Parts of the inward invasion to the airports that we've seen throughout the morning. Because airlines like Continental have invested so much money in breaking open fortress Heathrow, it's difficult to see why they have any incentive to cut prices.

For the time being at least, flying from this airport is still likely to attract a premium passenger.

Richard Quest, CNN, Heathrow Airport.


HARRIS: What do you say -- time to take a look at some of the most clicked-on videos at

Seven proves to be a lucky number for this dog in Salt Lake City. A man tossed the dog, named Seven, odd, over an overpass. Luckily, the dog wasn't hit by a car and is recovering.

A new GPS device may make your morning commute a little better. It guides you through gridlock and directs you to the cheapest gas station. I like the sound of that.


HARRIS: And Daisy Bailey (ph) is celebrating her 113th birthday. Born in 1895, she is the oldest person in Michigan.

For more of your favorite videos, just go to Don't forget -- don't forget, you can take us with the CNN Daily Newsroom podcast. It is available at Just click on podcasts.

NGUYEN: Well, when this woman got her son's autism diagnosis, she was ready to give up.


FU JING, SON HAS AUTISM (through translator): I thought about committing suicide with my son. I could not imagine the pain he would suffer when he grew up, all the unfair treatment from society and school mates. As a mother, I felt so much pain.


NGUYEN: But from despair to hope at a school called Stars and Rain.

HARRIS: But first, you know, it can help you qualify for a loan and lower your interest rate. We're talking about your credit score.

Ali Velshi with some tips to help you boost it.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Falling home prices means more opportunities for buyers. But with lending standards tightening, improving your credit score is more important than ever.

JOHN ULZHEIMER, CREDIT.COM: If you want to guarantee yourself the best rates and the best terms that any lender has to offer, you really need to be boasting a 750 across the board. Now, of course, you can still get approved with a score lower than 750. You can even get credit in the mid-600s. But your -- you should not expect the best rates and the best terms in the mid-600s.

VELSHI: The easiest way to give your credit score a boost is to pay off high credit card balances and avoid opening new lines of credit.

ULZHEIMER: If you're in credit score improvement mode, you really need to kind of take a step back, no knee jerk reactions and tackle the things that are costing you the most.

Pay off the collections or settle them. Pay down the credit card debt as much as possible. And by all means, do not exit the credit environment as a means for improving your credit score.

VELSHI: And be aware, closing credit cards just because you rarely use them will not help your credit score. Hold on to older credit cards. The longer you've managed credit, the better your score will be. And that's this week's "Right on Your Money."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: Well, at the grocery store, you can get a choice, right? Paper or plastic. But one airline -- it is plastic all the way. CNN's Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange to tell us why carriers are using more plastic cups.

You know, some people would say, why don't you just switch that to paper?


But this has to do with something else entirely. It's lightening up the message many airlines are taking to heart. The "Associated Press" says U.S. Airways is only serving beverages in plastic because glass is too heavy. Extra weight translates into more fuel. And jet fuel costs have doubled since the beginning of last year.

The "A.P." says Delta Airlines, meanwhile, is using a thinner seat, and snacks from JetBlue no longer come in a heavy box. Of course, you know, airlines are also charging more for luggage. That can be very heavy.

And one airline, Aloha, announced today that it's going out of business. Hawaii's second biggest airline filing for bankruptcy twice since '04 blaming its financial woes, in part, on exorbitant fuel costs -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Exorbitant is right. That's a word that a lot of people may be using when we talking about gas prices. Another record.

LISOVICZ: That's right, Betty.

AAA says gas prices hit another all-time high, just a shade below $3.29 per gallon for regular. And prices are even higher for diesel, which, of course, hurts truckers. There are reports that some independent truckers will call in sick tomorrow, while others may pull over for a few hours, or drive really, really slow, which would save fuel.

But it creates some other problems like road rage. But we don't want to go there. We don't know that it's a coordinated effort, but there are reports. They certainly are being hurt.

In terms of what we're seeing in oil prices on Wall Street, they are moving lower, down two bucks today -- today's trading. But still, just a shade below $104 per barrel.

Stocks, well, they're on the plus side. It's been kind of a volatile session. A lot of action in the pharmaceutical sector. Shares of Merck are down 15 percent. While shares of Schering-Plough are tumbling 25 percent.

New clinical data raised questions about Vytorin, a cholesterol drug, that both companies market. The drug is a mix of Zocor and Zetia. And sales of those medications could suffer as well. Investors might need some pain-aids when they look at those share prices. But the Dow overall -- hanging in there on this final trading day of the first quarter. Up 67 points, or half a percent. The Nasdaq is up three quarters of a percent. So, the bulls making a stand right now.

NGUYEN: And we will take it, considering those foreign markets are not doing so great overnight. So good news on a Monday.

Thank you, Susan.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

HARRIS: Well the nation's financial crisis today, details of the biggest overhaul since the Depression -- it is issue No. 1 at the top of the hour.


NGUYEN: CNN, along with the U.N., is focusing on World Autism Awareness Day, which is this Wednesday. And we're bringing you stories on the disorder all week long.

CNN's John Vause has one now from Beijing that could inspire you here in the U.S.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At first, Fu Jing didn't know why her son, Ro Chi (ph) never played with other kids; why he never spoke.

JING (through translator): When he was around two-years-old, I noticed a lot of strange behavior. I took him to a doctor in Shanghai. He diagnosed language dysfunction.

VAUSE: But Ro Chi's behavior got worse.

JING (through translator): I took him to many hospitals to try and find out the real problem. Finally, one hospital said my son has autism.

VAUSE: And when she heard that word, autism, she felt so hopeless, she began thinking the unthinkable.

JING (through translator): I thought about committing suicide with my son. I could not imagine the pain he would suffer when he grew up. All the unfair treatment from society and school mates. As a mother, I felt so much pain.

VAUSE: Tian Huiping, or Hope as she's known, also struggled with the same desperate emotions eighteen years ago, when she too was told her son had autism. Back then, doctors said there was no treatment, no hope.

But at one hospital, by pure chance, she found a small brochure printed in Taiwan on how to teach autistic kids. It wasn't much, but she read it over and over again. TIAN HUIPING "HOPE", FOUNDER, STARTS AND RAIN INST.: So I was trying to work. And they told me my son and another boy -- we lived together with another boy. And it worked -- it worked a little built. But I saw a hope.

VAUSE: And from that brochure grew this, the Stars and Rain Education Institute for Autism. Born of one woman's utter determination to help her son when no one else would.

HUIPING: If he cannot go to school, what will happen with him? As a mother, this is such a big worry. And now 15 years passed. And all these parents, they have the exact same worries like I had 15 years ago.

VAUSE: More than 4,000 families have received the kind of help here they couldn't get elsewhere in China, including Fu Jing. She's learning how to communicate with her son, how to raise him, even how to love him.

JING (through translator): The training here strengthens the acceptance of your kids. Honestly speaking, as an ordinary person, I get angry and even shout at him. But here, they say we have to accept our kids as who they are. I feel that I have changed.

VAUSE (on-camera): The Chinese government says there's only about 100,000 people with autism in the entire country. But unofficial estimates put the number at somewhere between one million and two million, perhaps more. And there's just a few doctors who are capable of diagnosing the disorder.

(voice-over): The institute here lists 60 nationwide, and that's an improvement.

(on-camera): Fifteen years ago, how many doctors were there in China who could treat autism?

HUIPING: There was -- as I started the school, at that time, in 1993, there was only three doctors in the whole China who can -- issue diagnosis.

VAUSE (voice-over): Getting into Stars and Rains can take more than a year with such high demand that focuses on teaching the parents how to teach their kids.

(on-camera): Can the government do more? Can they start to do more on treatment? Can they have more doctors?

HUIPING: I'm not used to requesting anything from government.


HUIPING: We are educated. We have grown up in such a situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So instead of focusing on saying, no, you can't do that, you introduce the positive saying, here's what you should do. VAUSE (voice-over): For three years, Stars and Rain has been working with Heartspring, a cancer-based center for children with special needs, sending teachers here like Connie Coulter. She found a school struggling with almost no resources without the latest research. But what the school did have surprised her.

CONNIE COULTER, HEARTSPRING: There are things that they've taught me about value of family. And the passion, the empathy, the sacrifice that I don't see as much in the United States.

VAUSE: It's a sacrifice these parents have to make because in China, if your child has autism, and you're looking for help, there's almost nowhere else to turn.

John Vause, CNN, Beijing.


NGUYEN: And be sure to tune in to CNN on World Autism Day, that's Wednesday, April 2. We go in-depth on myths, facts and reasons for hope. All day this Wednesday.

Well, CNN NEWSROOM does continue one hour from now.

HARRIS: "ISSUE #1" is next with Gerri Willis and Ali Velshi. --

I'm Tony Harris.

NGUYEN: And I'm Betty Nguyen.