Robert MacNeil Returns to PBS NEWSHOUR to Report on Autism Today

March 29, 2011

6-part series airs during Autism Awareness Month

April 18 – 26, 2011

ARLINGTON, Va., March 29, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Autism – it’s a developmental disorder that has become increasingly prevalent, affecting 1 out of 110 American children. Despite years of study, little is known about its cause and access to treatment varies. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of American families hungry for answers struggle to care for the unique needs of children with the disorder. Among them, Robert MacNeil, co-founder of the PBS NEWSHOUR and grandfather of Nick, a 6-year-old boy with autism.

“I’ve been a reporter on and off for 50 years, but I’ve never brought my family into a story … until Nick,” MacNeil said, “because he moves me deeply.”

MacNeil and producer Caren Zucker tell the story of Autism Today in a 6-part broadcast series beginning Monday, April 18, 2011 and a robust online component where viewers can join the conversation. Ms. Zucker has produced many stories on autism and is the mother of a 16-year-old son with autism.

                        An introduction to Nick and autism as a whole body
                        experience: MacNeil brings viewers along on a
                        visit with his daughter and grandson Nick in
                        Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see how autism
                        affects the whole family, including his 10-year-
                        old sister, Neely.  Nick experiences autism not
                        just as a disorder in brain development but also
    Monday, April 18    as physical ailments affecting the whole body.

                        Autism Prevalence: Why are the numbers of children
                        with autism increasing?  At the UC Davis MIND
                        Institute in Sacramento, California, MacNeil sees
                        the wide range of different behaviors that
                        comprise the autism spectrum. Anthropologist
                        Richard Grinker argues that the rising  numbers
                        of children with autism is explained because
                        conditions previously given other names, like
                        mental retardation, are now included in the
                        autism spectrum.  Scientist Irva Hertz-Picciotto
                        says the wider definition only partly explains
                        the increased prevalence, pointing instead to a
    Tuesday, April 19   variety of environmental factors.

                        Autism Causes: The rise in autism numbers has
                        caused a surge in research to find the causes.
                        For the latest thinking, Robert MacNeil speaks
                        with four leading researchers: Dr. Gerald
                        Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, Dr. David
                        Amaral of the MIND Institute, Dr. Martha Herbert
                        of Harvard University and Dr. Craig Newschaffer
    Wednesday, April 20 of Drexel University.

                        Autism Treatment: Although children with autism
                        see doctors periodically, they go to school
                        everyday.  It is the school system that bears
                        most of the burden of treating children with
                        autism because treatment means education.
                        MacNeil visits two schools in New York - a public
                        school in the Bronx teaching 700 children with
                        autism and a charter school created in Manhattan
                        as a model of possibilities in educating children
                        with autism.  With only 30 students, it can use
                        one-on-one teacher/student ratios employing
                        intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis - the gold
    Thursday, April 21  standard treatment for autism.

                        Adults with Autism: Although federal law mandates
                        educational services for children with autism,
                        there are virtually no services when they become
                        adults.  MacNeil profiles Zachary Hamrick in
                        Mahwah, New Jersey, about to turn 21. As his
                        family contemplates the uncertain future now
                        facing hundreds of thousands of young people like
                        him, his parents ask themselves, "What will
    Monday, April 25    happen when we die?"

                        Autism Policy: The NEWSHOUR series ends with a
                        discussion of the public policy issues raised in
                        the series, including the enormous discrepancy in
                        the quality and availability  of services  for
                        children and future adults in what the federal
                        committee that determines research priorities for
                        autism now calls a "national health emergency"
                        with a panel of experts including:  Dr. Thomas
                        Insel, Director of the National Institute of
                        Mental Health, Catherine Lord, Professor of
                        Psychology, Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the
                        University of Michigan, Ilene Lainer, Executive
                        Director of the New York Center for Autism - a
                        private advocacy group, and John Shestack, a
                        Hollywood producer and the co-founder of "Cure
    Tuesday, April 26   Autism Now" a former advocacy group.

PBS NEWSHOUR will host an online content hub that will offer easy access to video of all the pieces in the series, as well as web-only features that are part of Autism Today, including:

  • First Look Online: In a brand new online-on-air cross promotion, check the NEWSHOUR’s website after each night’s broadcast during the week April 18: We’ll post the next chapter in the Autism Today series online by 7pm ET.
  • Autism 101 - A primer on autism, how it’s diagnosed, the spectrum of disorders, and available resources. We’ll also look at the costs of autism, through the lens of the families profiled in the series and others.
  • The Story of Donald - A new look at Caren Zucker and John Donvan’s profile of the first child diagnosed with autism as reported in The Atlantic.
  • Live Chat with Experts - Viewers can ask their questions directly to some of the experts and doctors profiled in the broadcast segments via live text chat moderated by PBS NEWSHOUR digital correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.
  • Ask Robin MacNeil - Hari Sreenivasan will preview the series with Robin MacNeil in a special interview on the Rundown news blog. MacNeil will also answer viewer questions after the series concludes.
  • Join us on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook: We want to hear how you or those you know are coping with autism. Use the Twitter hashtag #autismtoday to ask questions or join the conversation on the series.

PBS NEWSHOUR is seen five nights a week on more than 315 PBS stations across the country and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, in association with WETA Washington, DC, and THIRTEEN in New York. Major corporate funding for The NEWSHOUR is provided by Chevron, Bank of America and Intel, with additional support from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.


Source: newswire

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