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Sacramento Adult With Autism 'Sets Roots, Grows Wings'

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(Roland Rickets is one of the people featured in "Autism Grows Up," a one-hour documentary airing Friday, March 1st at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.)

Cat Ricketts says she saw signs early on that something was different with her son Roland.

"He always skirted the periphery," remembers Cat Ricketts. "It was like he liked being with us, but he'd kind of always be on the edges....We had to do some daycare and he just didn't like daycare and daycare people didn't like him.... and so finally we had some friends...her name was Lily and she said, "'You know, Roland's like a little ghost. He doesn't talk, he doesn't interact.'"

Roland was diagnosed with autism in the mid-1980s, before widespread knowledge about the disability, or the therapies for it. But Cat and her husband Lex had a vision for a normal life for their son, and committed themselves to it. Cat spent hours a day for years doing flash card sessions with him.

Videos show Cat teaching a kindergarden aged-Roland the days of the week. She focused on getting him to look her in the eye and speak in full sentences. Lex and Cat said the behavior modification they did with their son was often criticized.

"Even the most awkward stuff we did because we cared and it often didn't look like we cared," said Lex Ricketts. "It often looked like we were being very cold and stern."

In the video, Roland looks uncomfortable, he flaps his hands, squeels, and picks up the table in front of him.

"We were afraid if we didn't do something, he'd be an adult with a helmet on his head sitting and rocking, banging his head against the wall and doing that."

 0227PB Roland museum

More than two decades later, Roland is all grown up and lives with his parents in Elk Grove. He graduated from high school and has a job. He wears glasses, has long, thick blond wavy hair, and often flashes a pleasant grin.

My name is Roland. We're at my parents' house, and...I, I... my dad has health problems. My mom works at Lodi High School. She's a teacher.
Roland's verbal skills are limited, but that hasn't held him back.

Five days a week, Roland earns an hourly wage at the California Auto Museum, detailing cars, doing janitorial work, setting up for events.  

Mario Pulido is Roland's job coach, and oversees his work. But he says he doesn't have to do much quality control.

"At first glance you would think that Roland is not capable of doing a lot, but he actually is," says Mario Pulido. "And I feel the impact when he's not here... In a sense I don't look at Roland as being disabled."   

Back at home, Roland helps his dad with everything from putting on his shoes to repairing computers, and rewiring electrical sockets.

 0227PB Roland Socket

But Cat says there are some things he'll always need help with, like balancing a check book. Socializing can be too intense for him - Cat says one time a girl wanted to be 'kissy' with him, but he wasn't interested. His parents say Roland would be missed - but they'd like to see him on his own one day.  

"You want roots and wings for your kids. Roland's got the roots, and at some point he's going to take flight. And he's going to need his wings, and I have to let him do that."

Cat imagines eventually he could move in with a roommate, or live in a group home.

Roland says he will live on his own one day, but he's doing it on his own timeline.

"'Gonna live with my parents until I'm 35,"says Roland at a bus stop. "[They] like having me in their lives."

For now, Roland seems comfortable with his life at his parents' house. He uses public transportation to and from work. He goes to the gym, and he scuba dives.


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