Former NFL runner shares stories about sons' autism
State College, Pa. • Curt Warner hesitated and took a breath before stepping back to the podium following an encouraging pat on the back from his wife.
Talking about autism is tough on the former Seattle Seahawks and Penn State running back. But Warner says raising twin boys, both autistic, has been even tougher more difficult than any 4th-and-1 run he's ever had in his College Football Hall of Fame career.
Joined by his wife, Ana, and another son, Jonathan, Warner returned to his alma mater this week to deliver the closing address at the National Autism Conference. It was the first time the family appeared together to talk about the developmental disability affecting 19-year-old twins Austin and Christian.
"We are never going to give up on our boys," Curt Warner said, drawing applause from the several hundred in attendance. "Never give up, never give in, but you learn to pray quite a bit."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines autism spectrum disorders as "a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges," and says people with autism handle information in their brain differently from other people.
It took a little coaxing for Warner to share his experiences at the conference for educators and other professionals, as well as families.
The ability to visit oldest son Jonathan, 20, at Penn State helped. The younger Warner, a redshirt freshman receiver, starts training camp with the team on Monday.
"We can bring so much to the other families who are part of it," Ana Warner said at a news conference after their talk. "You need to make it real. You have a child with autism and there are things you have to deal with."
The Warner twins weren't diagnosed until they were 5. Since then, programs to help kids and their families have increased in what Ana Warner viewed as a welcome, positive step.
The Warners relayed emotional stories, such as having a family member sleep by the door when on vacation to make sure the boys don't wander.
"The most important thing with autism is you've got to have some faith," Curt Warner said. "This is a struggle that doesn't just end."
Warner was a leader on Penn State's 1982 national championship team. He went on to rush for more than 6,800 yards and 56 touchdowns in eight seasons in the NFL, mainly in Seattle.