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CNN Larry King Live

Autism: Is There Hope?

Aired February 27, 2008 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the fight against autism. J-Mac, the inspiring face of a frightening disorder -- a mysterious and complex condition that affects one in 150 people, including the children of Toni Braxton, Holly Robinson Peete and Doug Flutie. They know firsthand how devastating it can be.
Why does it happen?

Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Autism -- solving the puzzle, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

We've devoted a number of shows in the past couple of years to autism and we continue that search for the answer here tonight.

We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, Jason J-Mac McElwain. You know him as the young boy who had that incredible game, February 15, 2006. He comes in with four minutes and 19 seconds left in the regular season, takes the court and scores 20 points, including six three pointers. Jason tells that inspiring story in a new book "The Game of My Life". I have it right here. And there you see its cover.

With him is his mother Debbie.

And joining us is our old friend Holly Robinson Peete. She's an actress. Her oldest son R.J. was diagnosed with autism in the year 2000 when they was 3-years-old. They went public with his story last summer. Her husband Rodney, a former NFL star, hosts "Meet the Peetes," an hour long family reality radio show on X.M. Radio's Oprah and Friends channel.

When, Jason, did you know -- you like J-Mac, right?



When did you know you were autistic?

J-MAC: When I was diagnosed. I don't remember that back -- that far back.

KING: Did you feel different?

J-MAC: In (INAUDIBLE) in school.

KING: In school?

J-MAC: Yes.

KING: Not out of school?

J-MAC: Not out of school.

KING: Debbie, what was it like for you raising J-Mac?

DEBBIE MCELWAIN, J-MAC'S MOTHER, CALLS PERFORMANCE A "MILESTONE": That's a difficult question. It was -- the most difficult time was when -- from when he was diagnosed from about a year on until he was about five-and-a-half, closer to six, when he said his first word, Big Bird. He was severely autistic. He had every -- every single symptom of severe autism, from the eating disorder, not potty trained, autistic outbursts, head-banging, sensitivity to ears. It was extremely difficult. Once he said his first word and you knew that he was well on his way to hopefully breaking through autism, then it got easier. The hardest thing for my husband and I and Josh, was -- and it's quoted in the book -- is that -- were eating times. Jason would not chew, drink, nothing. That was the hardest thing for all of us.

KING: Wouldn't chew or drink?


KING: How did he take in food?

MCELWAIN: My first son, Josh, was born three-and-a-half months early. And you are taught in the hospital how to feed a preemie, because when they're born early, they don't -- they don't know how to suck. And with the help of Strong (ph) and the University of Rochester, we would get Jason to suck.

My mother, when she took care of the babies, became -- some ingenious thought clicked in her mind. And we went through the house flipping lights on and off. When Jason started eating baby food, his eyes would focus on Big Bird. And we had this tape -- I am serious. I would literally sit on the floor with him in my lap and we would -- my mother had the tape, I had the tape and if we could get him to focus on that, we could throw Spaghetti Os down his neck.

KING: Jason, you're just 19 and you've already accomplished a lot of things for 19.

Are you going to school?

J-MAC: Yes. I'm going. I'm in a GED program right now, because I had a special ed diploma when I was in high school.

KING: Have you got a goal?

J-MAC: Some day be a phys-ed teacher and someday be a Division One college coach or move up into the...

KING: I would imagine you might have a shot at that.

J-MAC: Or -- well, I coach A&E (ph) basketball right now.

KING: Holly, one of the goals of your son's life was to meet -- explain this, because we've got a little film here.

HOLLY ROBINSON PEETE, SON R.J. DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM AT 3: Oh, well, I think when many people saw J-Mac do what he did with four minutes and 19 seconds left a couple years ago, we were all inspired -- whether you had any dealings with autism or not. But for those of us who had been living with it -- and I happen to have a son who's affected by autism -- it was a source of hope that I can't even tell you. I get the chills thinking about it.

We watched it over and over and over and over and over again. And it just so happened that I wrote a book a couple years back and we shared a co-author. And the co-author said guess who I'm writing a book with, this kid that you were like so enamored with. And the next thing you know, they hooked it up.

So they started e-mailing each other. J-Mac and I started playing phone tag and texting each other. And...

KING: How old is your boy now?

ROBINSON PEETE: He's 10-years-old. And they had this amazing meeting. And it was pretty awesome.

KING: And now we present to you, exclusive on LARRY KING LIVE, the meeting.




R.J.: I'm excited to see J-Mac.



J-MAC: I'm 6'2". I was 5'9" when I did that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, they're calling. They're yelling for you.

What you got?

What you got?

What you got?

What you got? What you got?

ROBINSON PEETE: Oh, nice pass. Nice, Rodney!





KING: He's one of my favorite athletes, Rodney Peete. And that took place at your house.



KING: Did he -- did your boy know he was coming?

ROBINSON PEETE: Oh, he knew.

Are you kidding?

He doesn't like surprises, so I didn't want to freak him out. You know, his idol was going to come visit him...

KING: All right, we are now going to...

ROBINSON PEETE: ...and it was awesome.

KING: ...we are now going to take a look at the events of the night of February 15th, 2006, that changed your life and changed the life of a lot of people.

We've got questions about it, of course, but watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One minute later, he got his hoop -- a three pointer that set the gym on fire. But J-Mac wasn't done. He kept shooting and kept hitting -- another three. And another three. When he was done, he had hit a team record-tying six three pointers. The crowd stormed the court and put Jason on their shoulders.


KING: Have you played that season?

J-MAC: Well, that was my first -- I was the team manager up until that.

KING: Oh, so you were on -- the first time on the varsity?

J-MAC: That was my first game in the varsity. KING: Did you expect to be put in?

J-MAC: I always expected to win the game. I'm a team guy. My goal was to win our Section Five title, more than go in there and score 20 points.

KING: But when the coach put you in, were you surprised?

J-MAC: A little bit. Not very, because the team we were playing was in last place, but they were good sports about it. Their sportsmanship was wonderful that night.

KING: Were you known as a good shooter?

J-MAC: I was decent shooter, but I never shot like that. I was just hot as a pistol.


KING: Were you there, mom?

MCELWAIN: Yes, most definitely. It was Senior Night and the coach did tell us back in December, in the game, that we were going to -- I'm going try to put Jason in. And but we kept telling him, don't get your hopes up, because we didn't want him disappointed.

But I was there and I just prayed that he would make one -- made one basket. And when I saw the one basket, I was down on the court. I didn't even see the last basket.

KING: When we come back, we'll be joined by another great athlete and old friend.

The great Doug Flutie will join us.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flutie's flush. He throws it down. Caught by Boston College. I don't believe it! It's a touchdown.

DOUG FLUTIE, SON DOUGIE, 18, HAS AUTISM, FOUNDER, DOUGLAS FLUTIE, JR. FOUNDATION FOR AUTISM: Throughout my collegiate and professional career, I've been named a hero for my play on the field. My son and hero, Dougie, Jr. , was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blow them out. Blow.









Here he is.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Say bye-bye, mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I see your (INAUDIBLE). Say bye-bye, mama.




KING: Remaining with us, of course, is J-Mac, J. McElwain and his mother Debbie and Holly Robinson Peete.

And we're joined now in Boston by Doug Flutie, a 21-year veteran of professional football, whose son, Doug, Jr. , has -- now, Doug, do you know Mac?

FLUTIE: Yes, I do. I know J-Mac. We met at the Espies over a year ago -- probably about a year-and-a-half ago -- and then, as well, as conferences. And we actually gave an award last year.

KING: What has he meant to the whole field of autism?

FLUTIE: He's just brought more attention to it. And I think that's the bottom line, is awareness. I think that's something that our foundation has done, as well, is bring awareness to the issue. And I think that's the one bright spot is it's an inspirational story and J-Mac brought an awareness to autism, that children with autism can achieve things. They can go forward. They can get an education. There are different levels. There's, you know, each end of the spectrum. But he's a great role model for all of the other children with autism out there.

KING: What's the condition of your boy?

FLUTIE: He is very low functioning, where J-Mac is very high functioning. Dougie, still at age 16, does not speak, does not dress himself, does not feed himself. He -- you get the feeling he understands the majority of what you tell him or ask of him, but the communicative skills just aren't there and he can't respond. So it's very frustrating in that respect, that you're not sure -- you know, he can't tell you what he wants. You've got to read his body language a lot and just -- from being his parents for 16 years, you know his little idiosyncrasies.

KING: Did you ever think of not having him at home?

FLUTIE: No, not at all. You know, he -- he brings joy to our life. That's the one thing I think that our perspective on it is -- Dougie will light up a room when he walks into it. He's got a great smile. He knows when you're talking about him. He lights up over there. You know, he's got none of the pressures and the peer pressure and all that. He doesn't have live up to anyone else's expectations.

Obviously, we want the most for him. But, you know, he just -- he just walks in a room and he lights it up.

KING: What does -- Holly, what's the condition of R. J.?

ROBINSON PEETE: R. J. is probably mid-to high functioning. He wasn't verbal for many years, as a young boy, but became verbal as he got a little bit older, maybe six, seven, eight. He started becoming more socially connected. And really, just in the last couple of years, he's started to really make the connection with the fact that he has autism and connecting with someone like a J-Mac, who really inspires him and gives him hope.

KING: He can play Little League with my boys, right?

ROBINSON PEETE: He can, but there's a little asterisk next to it. You know, he has -- you have to sort of, you know, schmooze the coach a little bit and there's a -- so it's a little bit difficult. But he, like I said, he's pretty high functioning, but he does have his issues still.

KING: What's been the worst of it for you, J-Mac -- the worst thing about being autistic?

J-MAC: Dealing with my brother teasing me growing up and then some of the kids that...

KING: Kids make fun of you?

J-MAC: Huh?

KING: Kids make fun of you?

J-MAC: Used to, yes. Sometimes and sometimes not. And people doubting me. And school was tough. But I -- I'll keep trying and keep trying and hope for the best.

KING: You never give up, right?

J-MAC: I never give up.

KING: Yes.

Would he be considered, Debbie, high functioning?

MCELWAIN: At the present time, he's high functioning autism. But Jason is also learning disabled, so that's his drawback in further education -- in other words, achieving a high school diploma. Hopefully, he can be -- I'm hoping he will at least get an assistant coach. If he's going to take some courses online with that. That's our biggest challenge now.

As far as the autism go, he still has some autistic mannerisms that he knows how to control in public. He gets a little bit rambunctious at home. But as a family, we disregard it.

KING: Doug, for a famous athlete was it difficult to accept the fact that you had an autistic boy?

FLUTIE: You know, I don't think it was. I think, you know, the most frustrating part about it was when he was two to two-and-a-half, Dougie spoke in full sentences. He could put his jacket on and...


FLUTIE: know, he had a lot of those skills. He could hit a ball off a tee. He could shoot a little hoop in his room, that type of stuff.

And between the ages of two-and-a-half to three, he regressed to that point that he would just as soon trip over a toy before pick it up.

So I think, you know, obviously -- well, I have two brothers that coached their children in Little League and football and everything else. And, you know, I'm a little jealous at times of that. And you would have loved to have had maybe had that opportunity.

But with Dougie, you know, early on you could see some of those things. And that was the frustrating part. You got a taste of his personality, what he was like and all that. And then all of a sudden he was gone from us. And slowly -- he's 16 now -- slowly over the years, we've pulled that personality back out.

KING: But does hope remain?

FLUTIE: I think it does. I talked to Jeffrey Lurie from the Philadelphia Eagles. His brother was 35 and had autism and spoke his first words at age 35. So there's always hope.

KING: Wow!

ROBINSON PEETE: Yes, we played for the Eagles and I know Mr. Lurie's brother, as well. And that was an amazing story. And there are so many stories of home and inspiration, you never give up.

KING: Do you keep thinking you're going to get better and better, J-Mac? J-MAC: I keep thinking and I just keep trying and never give up on it.

KING: How did he handle all of the attention of that night?

MCELWAIN: That night when he got home, he had a meltdown. We all cried. Each day, he and his nurse would adjust to it.

What has given this to Jason is the self-confidence to talk in public. We still do a lot of rehearsal when he speaks. He still reads speeches that he may give. But it's given him self-confidence, because up until this point, he never really had something he could be proud of.

KING: We'll take a break.

The book is "The Game of My Life".

Toni Braxton joins us.

Don't go away.


TONI BRAXTON, SON DIEZEL DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM AT 3: Yes, sometimes I get emotional and I cry about it. But my tears aren't -- it doesn't mean that I'm weak or I'm feeling sorry for myself. It's more my strength to fight for your children.



KING: By the way, in the next segment and for the rest of the show, a very prominent doctor who specializes in this will be with us and we'll get a lot of medical looks at autism.

Joining us now from Las Vegas is Toni Braxton, the six time Grammy-winning music superstar. Her youngest child, Diezel, was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

What did you first notice, Toni?

BRAXTON: I noticed developmental changes. He wasn't developing like his older brother. I noticed he was talking like little words -- little short nouns -- words like cup, spoon, juice, those kind of -- they went away. No eye contact. He just wasn't as responsive as his older brother. So I knew something was different.

And I spoke to different specialists and pediatricians. And they all informed me, oh, he's OK. He's just a little late on his developing skills. He'll catch up.

But it didn't quite happen that way. It didn't work out that way.

KING: Do you think he might get much better? BRAXTON: He is much better, since -- now that I know he's autistic, I've gotten him the treatment that he needs. So he's talking. So I'm so excited -- short words, short sentences, but he's talking. So we've come a long way.

And remember, I was here the last time, I was a mess.

KING: Yes.

BRAXTON: I couldn't talk about it, sing about it, talk about it or anything. But now I'm much better. I can share my stories and, you know, not bawl over it. I blamed myself for so long. I just thought it was all my fault.

But I'm much better today. His progress is amazing.

KING: Doug Flutie, by the way, is cofounder of the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.

What hopes do you have, Doug, for Junior?

FLUTIE: You know, we just hope that he can become a little more independent and enjoy life a little more. I think he will be dependent on us the rest of his life. But I think the bottom line there is we don't hold out -- we hold out for hope that some day he will speak and start communicating better and all that. But physically, Dougie is great. He can run. He can jump. He can play outside and do things.

So I mean, we just take it one day at a time. We'll see. But as far as goals, I just want him to be able to enjoy life and be a little bit independent.

KING: Holly, what's your goal for R. J.?

ROBINSON PEETE: Well, it's funny, I don't know about my goal, but he shared his goal with J-Mac at our house. And he said he just wants to drive a car. He said...


J-MAC: I was laughing.

ROBINSON PEETE: Debbie asked what he wanted to be when he grows up. He said a driver. And I said what do you mean, a driver? He said I just want to drive a car. So he was very curious about J-Mac and whether he had his license yet.

KING: Do you?

J-MAC: No.


KING: Are you not able to drive?

MCELWAIN: Maybe some day. J-MAC: Maybe some day.

KING: What's your immediate goal?

J-MAC: To have my own house.

KING: Live independent?

J-MAC: Live independent first.

KING: Do you do -- do anyone -- does anyone think that this can be cured?

J-MAC: I think it can be if there's more -- when the more technology and the more health studies keep going, I think it can be cured. I have faith in it. So...

ROBINSON PEETE: I also think that we need to focus more on treatment and cure. We're not focusing on that. We're playing defense instead of offense when it comes to proving or disproving what causes it. And...

KING: We'll hear about...

J-MAC: We need to promote the awareness out there.

FLUTIE: See that...

KING: Doug, go ahead.

FLUTIE: My feel on it is that there's two different groups out there. There's those that are genetically -- that they're born with it and those that develop it. And I think they're two different animals there that, throughout the years -- and a lot of parents are looking at immunizations and potential mercury poisoning and all that. But there's also an element where they were born with it.

I feel like my son developed it at around age two-and-a-half to three.

So I think there's two different groups out there. And especially the second group, that develop it, I believe there can be a cure for that group.

ROBINSON PEETE: But don't you think, Doug, that most people -- most stories I have heard and Rodney -- that we've heard through our journey with autism is that people did see those milestones and hitting them, and then they abruptly stopped. Almost every story I know is like that.

FLUTIE: I mean, yes. I'm just telling you there, my son was speaking.

MCELWAIN: Exactly.

FLUTIE: And he was feeding himself... ROBINSON PEETE: The same here.

MCELWAIN: ...and doing little activities and all of that and lost it completely and withdrew. So -- and, of course, it's around the time of their shots.

KING: Toni, we will ask the doctor about those shots when he comes on -- a controversial subject. The American Pediatric Association has attacked the thought of inoculations and -- being the cause of autism.

Do you have a thought?

BRAXTON: I, as a parent -- I mean I'm not a doctor. I couldn't answer that on a technical side. But I noticed a big difference in my son when he got his vaccines. He just, over time, he just started decreasing in his ability to become -- to develop as he should.

My oldest son was quite different. I think with any medication you ingest and put into your body, there's going to be side effects. And I think it affects some differently. And in my case, I feel it definitely affected my toddler.

KING: What do you think, Debbie?

MCELWAIN: I'm not -- half of me believes that the vaccines may cause autism. Jason never spoke. He didn't at all do anything until he was about six and then he came out of the autism. So in our case, I think it was genetic, although family trees that have been done in our family, there is no...

KING: No autism.

MCELWAIN: autism in our family. A mutation in the genes may have occurred in, you know, in uterine that caused him to be autistic.

My biggest fight is now to have autistic children or anybody with disabilities, for them to be given a chance to be treated normally and be given jobs. I'm tired of the fighting. I have fought for Jason to be part of the basketball team, to be in swimming classes. And I came to the point where I would lie. Is the kid potty trained? Oh, yes, he is. But he wasn't.


MCELWAIN: Can -- I have done a lot of fighting and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of lying. The -- anybody with a disability should be given a chance.

KING: Sure.

MCELWAIN: And that's where, with him doing these points on this, is what's making more people aware.

KING: This is...

MCELWAIN: I think genetic research in the -- is going to take a while.

KING: It's a terrific emotional toll.


KING: All right, we're going to take a break and come back.

All of our panelists remain.

And we'll add Dr. Jerry Kartzinel, the board-certified pediatrician. His practice is devoted almost solely to research and treatment of autism and other neurodegenerative disorders.

We'll be right back.

Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the fans have decided the ESPY goes to Jason McElwain.


J-MAC: I'd like to thank our living coach. And I hope (INAUDIBLE) Section Five championship, Coach Johnson, for giving me its chance to play.


J-MAC: Thank you God.



KING: Welcome back to this one-hour look at autism on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Remaining with us is J-Mac McElwain, who overcame a childhood diagnosis of severe autism to become a basketball star, and has written about it in "The Game of My Life." His mother, Debbie, is with him.

So, too, here is Holly Robinson Peete. She's an actress. Her oldest son, R.J. diagnosed with autism at age three. Her husband is the famed Rodney Peete.

Speaking of famed quarterbacks, Doug Flutie is with us in Boston, former NFL star. His son, Doug Jr., has autism.

In Las Vegas is Toni Braxton, six-time Grammy winning music superstar. Her youngest child has autism.

And joining us now here in Los Angeles, the return visit, Dr. Jerry Kartzinel, the board-certified pediatrician. His practice is devoted to the research and treatment of autism and other neuro- degenerative disorders. He's the father of a son with autism and he's treated the autistic son of actress Jenny McCarthy and wrote the forward to her book, "Louder than Words."

First things first, Dr.


KING: Is there an association between vaccination and autism?

KARTZINEL: Well, you have to think about a couple of things. First of all, there's no such thing as a genetic epidemic. So the idea that this is all of a sudden a genetic epidemic just doesn't work in science. We don't have anything like that.

The next thing you have to think about then, if it's not genetics, what could possibly be happening in the child's environment, whether it be in utero or after they're born, that could be taking a child that is normally developing in many of our kids -- not all of them, but normally developing and some time at 12 months, 15 months, 18 months, they lose language. They lose eye contact. They stop sleeping well. They develop constipation, diarrhea. They're screaming. They become aggressive. They start playing with their poo and flinging it on animals, or whatever it is, something has changed.

And the only thing that's happening during that time right now is they're getting a lot of vaccines. So that's why you're hearing that vaccines might be a source of this.

KING: Why do the American Association of Pediatrics then condemn that idea?

KARTZINEL: Well, I think when you look at vaccines and the history of vaccines, they've done a lot of good. They've really just shut down disease left and right.

When I was training in my years, there was a disease called Haemophilus Influenza Type B, which would cause meningitis. And during my training years, the HIB shot came out and I haven't seen a case since.

So there is some --

KING: So what do you do then?

KARTZINEL: Well, I think we have to be open to the idea that if vaccines are causing a problem, that we have to be able to identify it and let the powers know about it. There's something called a VARES report that pediatricians are supposed to fill out when they think that there's a vaccine-related injury, or there might be something due to a vaccine, but they tend not to do that.

First of all, we're never educated in doing that. And second of all, we hear somebody calling up and saying, my kid just got the shot, he's screaming non stop for 10 hours. I'm not going to fill out a VARES report. KING: Simply put, what is autism and why is it so different in everybody?

KARTZINEL: That's a really good question, especially if you look at the different generations. My adults with autism will say this isn't a disease, so stop trying to make it like you're trying to cure us. We're fine the way we are, thank you very much.

The autism I see in my clinic, where we do have some common traits like stymieing behavior, loss of eye contact, loss of language, hyper-activity, aggressive behavior, abnormal toy play, abnormal eating habits, failure to thrive. These kids are coming in not just with autism that I treat, because I'm treating actually their inflammatory bowel disease or their reflux disease or their massive constipation or the bacterial -- and the list goes on and on.

And it's amazing that when you take a child who's in agony, who's in pain, and you remove that pain from them, whatever it is, all of a sudden they can develop language. They can sleep the whole night. They're no longer aggressive.

KING: What's the word mean?

KARTZINEL: Well, autism is -- comes from basically the idea of self. Just, you're into yourself. You've lost into your -- in your own world.

KING: Auto --

KARTZINEL: Auto. Right.

KING: What do you make of Jason's story?

KARTZINEL: Well, I don't know him well enough. I mean, what I hear is --

KING: You've seen the film, though?

KARTZINEL: I've seen the film. The story is fantastic.

I'm so proud of you. And just thousands and hundreds of thousands of moms are just hoping that their children will develop into a young man or a young woman who is able to communicate and enjoy life. But when they're locked in their world and they're crying and they're screaming and sounds bother them and sights bother them and they are anxiety and they are obsessive -- They're chanting this obsessive behaviors, whether it be doors open or doors closed or windows up or windows down or you have to turn left when you want to turn right --


KING: How do you explain to Doug Flutie why his child hasn't spoken?

KARTZINEL: Well, I don't know his child. I haven't had a chance to work with him --

KING: What would you guess? Hasn't spoken.

KARTZINEL: I can't tell you.

KING: Have you had children who haven't spoken?


KING: All right. And what is the usual degree?

KARTZINEL: It's interesting. We have kids who can't speak and then when we're able to open up those pathways, they tell you what it's like or they draw pictures of what it's like to be in that realm. It's fabulous. That gets into looking at causes that are causing their immune system not to work properly, where they have this chronic inflammatory condition that's going on in their body.

KING: You've made people speak?



KARTZINEL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

KING: Toni, what's the number one problem your child has?

BRAXTON: Oh, he has a series of different ones. Very aggressive. He's become more social. We're really excited about that. Speech was a big thing for him.

As parent, I have two kids, and I'm not saying that it's definitely the vaccines, but my suspicions are aroused. I just think that it affected him differently. For example, I can't take Motrin. It affects me. But my sisters can take it. My parents can take it. So I think --

KING: Let me get a break, Toni.


KING: We'll pick up on this and we'll get the thoughts of the other panelists as well.

Don't go away.


JENNY MCCARTHY, ACTRESS: I got my butt kicked. It was really hard, those years. Pulling Evan out of the window I call it. I suffered a lot. I cried a lot. I'm just ready to move forward. I'm ready to help out. I'm ready to spread the word. I'm ready to make this world a safer, cleaner place. That is my mission right now.



H. PEETE: Hello, welcome to meet the Peetes, how are you doing?


H. PEETE: I'm Holly Robinson Peete. We are the Peetes. Our son R.J. was -- we were just starting to see the beginning of his autism forming and he really had a hard time with different stimuli on airplanes. It was really difficult. There were times when I would go into the laboratory and I would sit in there and just -- just myself and rock back and forth, sing an old Negro spiritual, swing low.

R. PEETE: But there are certain people --


KING: We're back with our panel.

Holly Robinson Peete, you believe in the cause and affect of vaccinations?

H. PEETE: I just believe that each child is a different scenario. It's not a one-size fits all situation. And I do really feel strongly that when -- after my son had his MMR shot, measles, mumps, rubella, that there was a drastic change. I think each kid has a toxic tipping point. Not every child can handle all of the toxins.

For instance, MMR has three live viruses. It's very, very powerful. So that was our situation.

KING: Did you notice anything, Debbie?

D. MCELWAIN: No. When -- Jason was autistic from pretty much three months on -- that I started noticing that he had no, no eye contact, did not like to be held.

KING: That was pre-vaccination?

D. MCELWAIN: Yes. Yes. I mean, he had --


KING: Doug, do you have any association with vaccination and Doug Jr.?

FLUTIE: Well, Larry, back in '88 they combined the MMR. They gave all three shots at the same time. Around that time, there was something like one out of 2,000 or 2,200 children who were diagnosed with autism. In '97, 10 years later or so, when we started our foundation, it was one in like 600. Today, it's one out of 150. And the common thread was the combination of those shots. That's when it started to accelerate and take off. So over the last 20 years, it's gone to one in 150 kids. And it's more prevalent in boys. It's like one in 100 in Massachusetts in boys.

So I draw a parallel there. I don't think that there will ever be conclusive proof. And I think the government would be afraid to admit it, because it'd have a heck of a lot of lawsuits on their hands.

KING: But they're not going to stop vaccinations.

FLUTIE: No, but at least spread them out. At least spread them out. Don't start combining them and throwing all that -- those toxins into the system with the mercury. The preservative in the shots are the primary problem.

KING: Were they combined, doctor, just for efficiency?

KARTZINEL: They were combined for efficiency. And what happens is they added the preservative called Thimerosal that you may have heard about, so they can get 10 shots per vial, instead of single dose. If you use single-dose vials, then you wouldn't need to have a preservative in it, because the needle just goes in once, draws the fluid out, and you give it to the child. But when you have 10 doses, the needle has to go in several times and they want to put a preservative in there.

So it's saving 52 cents an injection by going to a --

KING: Toni, what would you do about it?

BRAXTON: I would get one at a time. I don't like the cocktails. The vaccines did nothing to my older son. He's 100 percent fine. But for my youngest son, it definitely affected him. I had to get him shots to go to school, and I asked them just to itemize it one at a time and the doctor did that. So that's -- I didn't notice a big change in his behavior after the shot. He was just a typical grumpy kid after getting his shot.

But he's not caught up on his vaccines for school because I'm reluctant to get them.

KING: Yes. By the way, what is the, symbol of autism, the piece of a puzzle?

BRAXTON: We're going to try to find the missing piece, getting our kids all healthy. You know, I work with Autism Speaks and I love them. They've been so wonderful to me. And on April 2nd, they're having this first annual sanctioned U.N. Autism Day worldwide. And I think that's just great that all the worlds can come together and do something about this. And whatever -- whatever the situation is, we can find a cure. And that's what's most important to me.

KING: J-Mac, were you -- were you treated differently by friends, when you were a kid --


J. MCELWAIN: With the team, they used to joke around with me, but that's fine. They used to -- they treated me the same like a regular teammate. Coach treated me like the same. They -- well, he would yell at the players for making a mistake --


KING: What about the non-teammates?

J. MCELWAIN: Some did and some didn't. Some -- some that didn't, I don't think they knew a word about autism. So I'm thinking -- I'm hoping that there was an awareness of autism out there.

BRAXTON: But guess what, J-Mac, because of you, there is. And that piece of tape that ran all across the Internet -- thank God for the Internet --

KING: Didn't you meet with the president?


J. MCELWAIN: Yes. President Bush is a good man.

KING: Yes. He congratulated you. I would imagine.

We'll be back with more. Don't go away.


MAGIC JOHNSON, FMR. NBA PLAYER: Sometimes God blesses us with a special person who can handle big jobs and we have that special person right here.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the story of a young man who found his touch on the basketball court, which, in turn, touched the hearts of citizens all across the country.



KING: The key, I guess, Dr. Kartzinel, and maybe it's impossible -- are we going to cure it?

KARTZINEL: I think we have to for the sake of our children. We have to. We don't have a choice. From a societal point of view, we can't handle one in 100 boys being badly damaged with no treatment, no cure. We have to come to terms with it and get these kids out of misery and pain.

KING: Any girls have it?

KARTZINEL: Oh, absolutely. But not at the same rate as the boys.

KING: Do we know why? Why more boys than girls?

KARTZINEL: There's some ideas that estrogen can be protective in their systems, where testosterone can make us a little more susceptible to environmental toxins.

KING: Do you have a lot of hope, Toni?

BRAXTON: I do. I am hopeful that my kid will be like this little young boy called -- his name is Jake, and he's autistic free, autism free, whatever it is. He jumps, he laughs. No signs of ever being autistic. I'm hoping my son Diezel runs for the presidency in the next 20 years, so I am hopeful. Yes.

KING: Are you, Doug?

FLUTIE: I'm very hopeful. I think, you know -- and just going back a second, it is five times more prevalent in boys than girls.

But our focus right now is on services for families. Our foundation -- is our Web site. Yes, we focus on services and hopefully the doctors and the big money will come from the government for research. And I am very hopeful, very hopeful.

J. MCELWAIN: Is the awareness out there in the other countries besides the United States?

KARTZINEL: Oh, it is. It is. It's getting more and more prevalent everywhere.

KING: Do you feel that there's more of an awareness? You created more of an awareness.

J. MCELWAIN: I hope there is more. Hopefully the awareness of autism is out there to help other kids --

KING: Do you know --


J. MCELWAIN: -- to be more independent and hopefully live on their own.

KING: Do you have autistic friends?


KING: No? Is there any organization which autistic kids meet?

D. MCELWAIN: No. In Rochester we have very little support.

J. MCELWAIN: We have Autism Speaks. There is a walk once a year.

D. MCELWAIN: Yes. That we do. There's very little in Rochester.

KING: Wouldn't that be a good idea, Holly?

H. PEETE: I think so. But I think one of the things that's important to know is that these children need to be around typical peers so that they are able to sort of mimic them and try to mainstream and be more social.

So sometimes when you have a child that --

J. MCELWAIN: So like hang with normal people?

H. PEETE: Exactly. I mean, it's true. I mean, sometimes you have a child who talks to another child who socially has their issues. It doesn't really advance the agenda.

That said, I just have to go back and say my son with autism and Debbie's son with autism connected today.


D. MCELWAIN: -- wasn't for his brother --

J. MCELWAIN: I wouldn't be where I am today.

D. MCELWAIN: He wouldn't be where he is today because we have no support. So I had a normal child, quote, unquote, and an autistic child.

KING: You wanted to say something about your brother.

J. MCELWAIN: I want to thank my brother, Josh, for being there for me in my life and I want everyone out there to pray for my Grandma Bernice. I wish she was here right now, but she's not. But she's in our heart.

KING: Is she very sick?

J. MCELWAIN: She has dementia.


How old is your brother?

J. MCELWAIN: He is 18 months older than me.

KING: What does he do?

D. MCELWAIN: He's a high school math major at SUNY Geneseo.

KING: Terrific.

We'll be back with our remaining moments. Some final thoughts from each of our guests right after this.


KING: Let's check some goals. Toni, what's Diezel's goal?

BRAXTON: Diezel's goals? He says he's really excited about going to his first big typical peer's birthday party. It's a really big deal. We're excited about that and we made it through a 5-1/2 hour flight to New York again. Really a big deal. Things are going great. I'm really excited about his progress.

KING: What's your son's goal, Doctor?

KARTZINEL: My son, 12 years old, he's the one who fell apart after the MMR vaccine. And we have all of his autism gone. We can go and sit and have a two-hour meal. The only thing that we lost is about a third of his IQ. So I'm really working hard on getting more of his functioning back.

KING: Doug, can your son not express his goal?

FLUTIE: No, he can't. He's in a situation right now where his daily activities are our goals. Our goals are to be able to brush his own teeth, feed himself, maybe dress himself, those type of goals.


FLUTIE: And he's doing some water sports, camps, with an aide. And I tell you what, when we took him to a water sports camp and got him on a wind surfer, it was amazing.

J. MCELWAIN: How's the golf game going?

FLUTIE: Not good, J-Mac.


KING: How do you know each other?

D. MCELWAIN: They did an autistic golf fund raiser up in Cape Cod last summer and we were -- Jason and I were up there for an autistic breakfast fund raiser up there.

J. MCELWAIN: When we were up there, we played golf. Doug and I --

D. MCELWAIN: Jason doesn't play golf very well.

J. MCELWAIN: I'm not a good golfer.


KING: You -- you obtained your goal on the basketball court, so what's next for you?

J. MCELWAIN: Live on my own or continue to work at Wegmans and move up as like a department manager, where every day we give our best.

KING: Is that a store?

J. MCELWAIN: It's a corporate local chain.

D. MCELWAIN: Grocery store chain.

KING: Every day we give our best.

J. MCELWAIN: That's one of the quotes.

KING: Are you a bag boy? What do you do there? Are you a bag boy?


D. MCELWAIN: He works in the bakery and he works in the prepared foods.


D. MCELWAIN: A variety of functions.

H. PEETE: I just don't think you can really speak highly enough of what Jason represents for people with autism and for children with autism, and just watching my son look at him with his mouth open all morning really gave him a lot of inspiration. So thanks for doing that.


J. MCELWAIN: I hope to motivate more people so they get -- so I can say that sometimes dreams do come true.

KING: And your son is to drive.

H. PEETE: He wants to drive. I mean, he's only -- he's only 10. So, I'll be hiding the car keys. But he's so inspired. He's inspired by Jason. He's inspired by -- his goal, though, really, for me that I see at school, penetrating that boy's group, that boy pack. Trying to socially connect with some of these kids is so tough for him.


H. PEETE: So he's working hard on it.

KING: All of you deserve our great deal plaudits from all of us.

And the book is --

J. MCELWAIN: I want to thank everyone in the country for reading my book.

KING: Every day we serve.

FLUTIE: You know, Larry, there's a whole generation that's becoming adults now and they're going to have to be looked after and that's the next step. KING: Yes. Good point, Doug. The Flutie Foundation as well.

"The Game of My Life," a true story of challenge, triumph and growing up autistic by our man, J-Mac McElwain.

Every Child By Two, the campaign for early immunizations gave us the following statement, "The scientific community has listened and has conducted numerous studies that clearly refute the connection between vaccines and autism. These studies can be located by visiting our Web site at the following address Groups such as the Institutes of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the World health Organization all support the scientific conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism."

For more information on autism, head to KING. We've got Web site links as well as J-Mac Web Extra.

As always, you can download our podcast or e-mail upcoming guests. We're on 24/7 at

And my man, "ANDERSON COOPER 360," starts right now.