Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 5, 2013

Learning to live with autism

Man overcomes obstacles of disorder

Joshua Ball
For The Independent

Van Lear — Josh Osborne is like most young men his age. He enjoys surfing the web, watching YouTube videos and keeping up with his more than 2,000 friends on Facebook.

But, while Osborne shares many of the interests of typical 20-somethings, he’s done so with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism.

“I don’t look at it in any way,” said Osborne, 26, when asked about his diagnosis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. April was National Autism Awareness Month.

Osborne’s father, Kelly, said he and his then-wife noticed Josh’s delayed development as a child.

“He was not as verbal as he should have been and he would not keep eye contact,” said Kelly. Asperger’s is at the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.

In 1982, Josh was diagnosed with autism and it was “like being hit by a ton of bricks,” said Kelly.

“It took our breath away,” he recalled. “Back then, there wasn’t a lot of research and the disorder was relatively new.”

According to Autism Speaks, one of the nation’s largest advocacy groups, the disorder affects one in 54 boys and costs a family $60,000 annually.

Described as the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States, autism affects more than 2 million in the country.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies around nine in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum — a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. In Kentucky, Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses experienced a large increase from 1,032 to 3,927 from 2000 to 2010.

“It’s great to see all the resources out there now,” said Kelly. Resources have grown for families dealing with the disorder in eastern Kentucky. In 2009, Highlands Regional Medical Center opened its Center for Autism, featuring a school devoted to children battling the disorder, and Ashland has the I Believe I Can School, which opened last year.

Throughout school, Josh continued to be an introvert.  He was assisted by aides and special classes, but the best therapy came from an unlikely, but common place.

As a sophomore in high school, Josh began working at the Paintsville Walmart Supercenter. His mother, Kim, helped him get his foot in the door.

And he’s been there ever since.

“I enjoy pushing the carts and meeting people, whether I know them or not,” said Josh, who will celebrate his 10th anniversary with the company this summer.

The job at Walmart provided the best therapy for Josh.

“It allowed him to learn and grow, and it showed him he was capable of doing anything,” said Kelly. “Josh was so shy growing up, and this interaction helped him in so many ways. It’s really helped shape the person he is today.”

Josh has no intentions of leaving Walmart. As a full-time employee, he earns benefits and jokes with his father that he gets three weeks a year off — a week more than his father.

His passion is racing, specifically NASCAR, and he hopes to buy an RV with his retirement and follow the professional circuit across the country.

As for parents, Kelly encouraged them to look past the disorder and believe in the potential inside their children.

“For some it may take a little longer and you may have to look a little further, but the potential is there,” he said. “Never give up.”