Sometimes it’s less difficult for Mason Burruss to relate to someone on stage than it is in everyday life, but he’s learning. The 20-year-old student has autism spectrum disorder, and for him, the theater is a place to explore and understand emotions.
“In real life, sometimes I have a habit of drifting off when someone’s talking and think about what I’m going to say,” said Burruss, who is studying drama and communications at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. “But acting is about focus, which can get hard sometimes.”
According to a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 1 child in 68 is on the autism spectrum. The prevalence of autism has increased 30 percent since the last report in 2012.
There isn’t a concrete explanation for the increase, but more knowledge about the disorder — often manifested in repetitive behavior and problems communicating — could be contributing to more diagnoses. Despite more awareness of autism, it still remains puzzling to parents, even those who are doctors.
For more than a decade, Burruss’ parents, both psychiatrists, didn’t know their son had autism. His father, John, is CEO of Metrocare Services, a Dallas nonprofit serving those with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
“Most kids have these idiosyncrasies,” John Burruss said. “We look back and wonder, ‘Was that behavior because of autism?’ When you’re close to anyone, it’s hard to be objective. It also challenges all your hopes as a parent and all you thought you’d have in your life. There’s a powerful incentive to believe nothing is wrong.”
Lucy Puryear said that as her son got older, it became more apparent.
“There was something different about him,” the Houston psychiatrist said. “But it took a while to accept it. As a psychiatrist, you want to believe your kid doesn’t have a neuropsychiatric disorder.” Continue reading