MARTIN — Allen Central High School’s Lady Rebels marked Wednesday’s World Autism Awareness Day with ribbons and a special guest to throw out the first pitch at their softball game against the Jackson City Lady Tigers.
Layton is, by all accounts, an exceptional 15-year-old. He earns straight A’s in school and has no problem making friends. Described by his mother, Misty Conley, as very tech-savvy, he hopes to study computer science or a similar field when he goes to college in a few years.
He’s also a major NASCAR fan, and happens to be a bit of a stats buff. “Who won the Daytona 500 in 1967?” Misty asks him.
A brief moment of introspection. “Andretti,” he replies.
Layton was diagnosed at the age of 2 as having moderate to severe autism. Since then, he’s undergone all manner of therapy, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy and working with a specialist in Baton Rouge, La. Now, to see him joke with his friends, it would be hard to pick up on anything out of the ordinary.
However, there remains widespread confusion and misunderstanding about autism. “When you say ‘autism,’ people instantly think Rain Man,” Misty says. “But it affects everyone differently.”
And Layton is far from the mumbling savant of Dustin Hoffman’s role as Raymond Babbitt. His ceremonial opening pitch Wednesday evening had no problem going over the plate.
Coach Johnny Layne said he was proud of his team’s initiative to make the event happen. “The girls thought it would be a good idea,” he said, and he explained that they plan to continue wearing their autism awareness ribbons all month long.
The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show that one in every 68 children is classified with some form of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD. Its prevalence among boys is almost five times as high than in girls. The rate of diagnosis has increased dramatically in recent years, thanks largely to increased awareness.