John Hall is a successful entrepreneur and is earning his doctorate in education from USC. He's married, 37, and has two kids.
By all accounts, Hall has a successful life. And all of it despite an early childhood diagnosis that could have set him on a completely different path, had he not had an intense intervention.
“I exhibited all the signs of classic autism,” Hall said in an interview this week.
As a toddler, he said he failed to make eye contact, could spend two to three hours at a time flipping light switches on and off or flushing the toilet.
“I didn't respond to my name. I had no interest in engaging with anyone or my parents,” Hall said.
But for about four years after his diagnosis, Hall was involved in a “very intensive, early intervention” program.
“I slowly began to come out of it — whatever was going on with me,” Hall said.
His journey out of the autism treatment regimen as a child and his life since then is chronicled in his book, “Am I Still Autistic? How a Low-Functioning, Slightly Retarded Toddler Became CEO of a Multi-Million Dollar National Corporation,” which he plans to discuss at an event in Burbank on Saturday in honor of national Autism Awareness Month.
His parents insisted he be “mainstreamed” when he started first grade in the Santa Monica Unified School District in 1981, something that was unheard of then, Hall said.
Throughout elementary school, Hall struggled to keep up with his schoolmates, but he eventually succeeded.
He was better at making eye contact, but not great, Hall said. His speech improved, but junior high school was rough as well, he said.
“By 11th grade, I was feeling like I was a normal kid, so to speak,” Hall said. “I didn't know I was autistic. It was not well known at the time. It wasn't a specific term I heard until college.”
But Hall was left searching for answers with his son's autism diagnosis at 18 months.
“I saw the writing on the wall,” Hall said. “You hear in the media about autism, but it's not real until you're diagnosed. It was the worst day of my life — all hopes and dreams flew out the window.”
Despite his own experiences with autism and having achieved personal and professional success, he felt hopeless for some time, Hall said. He wondered about those parents who had no experience with how to cope with something as challenging as autism.
It was the impetus for writing his 2011 book and the reason he will be in Burbank on Saturday afternoon.
Hall will be sharing his experiences and answering questions about autism in time for Autism Awareness Month at Pam Mac D's Gluten-Free Market.
Gluten-free diets have been known to help children with autism, and Hall said he is trying it with his son.
“I'm not a scientist,” Hall said. “I'm not going there to advocate a gluten-free diet. [But] I know that a lot of parents have had a lot of success with gluten- free diets.”
The focus that kept him locked into flipping lights is still in him, he said, but now his focus is on productive things, like school and work.
“I don't think autism went away. I had to learn to cope with it,” Hall said.
Pam Mac D's is located at 3516 W. Magnolia Blvd. in Burbank, and Hall is scheduled to speak from 1 to 3 p.m.