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Father's memoir offers lessons on raising son with autism

Posted April 17

At 20, Julian Ballen lives out the same passion he's had since he was a toddler.

“I love drawing, and I love walking,” said Ballen, who has autism spectrum disorder.

When it comes to art, watercolor is his favorite medium. His room is decked out in a Disney motif.

“People with autism have a laser-like focus on whatever their intense areas of interest are,” said Dwayne Ballen, Julian’s father and a national television sportscaster who once worked for FOX50. “For Julian, they are Disney animated movies, drawing and animals. Those three things. That’s it.”

The Ballen family visited Disneyland last December and met Julian's favorite animator, Mark Henn, who gave him a drawing of Simba, from “The Lion King,” as a special gift.

Dwayne Ballen wrote "Journey With Julian,” a memoir of his observations watching Julian grow up with autism spectrum disorder.

“I watched the world through Julian's eyes, and it was a marvel,” he said. “And at times, it was a heartache.”

Dwayne and his wife, Martina, also have a neuro-typical child, Jared, who's now visiting colleges.

“We have certain standards and measures and bars for his brother, yet he knows there's a different set for him,” Dwayne Ballen said. “He wants to be reminded that he's doing well too, so it's not the easiest thing to navigate.”

Julian was accepted at UNC-Greensboro's "Beyond Academics" program for students with intellectual disabilities to learn life skills. They're preparing for a world that isn't always prepared for them.

Changing attitudes is what Julian's dad hopes his book may help accomplish.

“They have abilities to share with the world that can be productive and be helpful for the world,” he said. “We have to begin to think about them as adults, and how do we develop this mutually beneficial and satisfying relationship between adults with autism and the rest of the world.”

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  • qrbyrd Apr 17, 6:37 p.m.

    “I watched the world through Julian's eyes, and it was a marvel,” he said. “And at times, it was a heartache.”

    Well put Mr. Ballen. Some days my son amazes me and other days I just have to cry because it hurts so bad to see his struggles.