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NW Ohio family knows long road of autism diagnosis

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By Melissa Voetsch - bio | email

(WTOL) - These are the new faces of autism: Children born into a world they can't touch, but a world that at least knows what autism is. It's a world at least trying to reach out.

There is another lost generation. Adults with autism who live at Bittersweet Farms. They are carefully protected on the grounds of a world renowned facility. It is still one of the only of it's kind in the world.

These individuals with autism were born in was filled with ignorance and all-out contempt. The contempt was aimed mostly at their mothers.

Bob and Suzy Tyner lived through that world. Their son Jeffrey was born with autism in 1950. Only then, autism didn't exist.

It was called childhood schizophrenia. Severe emotional disturbance caused by a distant and emotionally frigid mother. It was nicknamed the "refrigerator mother syndrome."

"The refrigerator mother" was a term coined by child psychologist Bruno Betelheim.

Suzy and Bob never bought it. "Quite frankly, that's the one thing that didn't bother me. I thought, 'They're stupid.'"

But the world did buy it for the better part of 30 years, which forced mothers to retreat in devastated shame. But the world did buy it for the better part of 30 years. Psychiatrist Dr. Tim Valko says the damage was catastrophic.

With no options and no understanding, the Tyners turned to a psychiatric facility in Ann Arbor.

When Jeffrey was only seven, Suzy and Bob had to make the gut wrenching decision to send him there.

Jeff was only supposed to be there a few months. Doctors kept him there for 10 years.

The Tyners never stopped looking for answers. The diagnosis never fit in their eyes. Bob finally hit on it while researching countless books. He tells us, "Finally in one of the books, there was a paragraph about autism, and you said hey, 'That's it.'"

Even then, doctors refused to acknowledge that Jeffrey was autistic. So the Tyners moved him to one of the only facilities treating autism, the Aim School in New Jersey. He lived there several more years. "There was no choice. I guess that was it. You did what you had to do," Suzy said.

Jeffrey now lives in a group home close to Bob and Suzy, so he can stay with them often. He in his late 50s, and they are in their mid 80s. The Tyners have found their peace, but they haven't lost their fight.

Five years ago, Suzy took money from an inheritance and started the Great Lakes Center for Autism with the goal of building a center to house services and support for families dealing with autism.

The building itself has yet to become a reality. The Tyners have always opted to fund services first. Like understanding, they know it will come in time.

They have never giving up on their dream of making a better world for a new generation of children.