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Robert MacNeil returns to PBS NEWSHOUR to report on Autism Today

Posted Mar 30 2011 4:50pm

The PBS Newshour is one of the premiere news programs in the US. Many will remember it as the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, for Robert Macneil and Jim Lehrer. Robert MacNeil is returning from retirement to present a series of episodes on autism for autism awareness month.

Aside: wow, has it really been 16 years since Robert MacNeil retired?

The press release is shown below:

Robert MacNeil returns to PBS NEWSHOUR to report on Autism Today

6-part series airs during Autism Awareness Month

April 18 – 26, 2011

ARLINGTON, VA (March 29, 2011) – Autism – it’s a developmental disorder that has become increasingly prevalent, affecting 1 out of 110 American children. Despite years of study, little is known about its cause and access to treatment varies. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of American families hungry for answers struggle to care for the unique needs of children with the disorder. Among them, Robert MacNeil, co-founder of the PBS NewsHour and grandfather of Nick, a 6-year old boy with autism.

“I’ve been a reporter on and off for 50 years, but I’ve never brought my family into a story … until Nick,” MacNeil said, “because he moves me deeply.”

MacNeil and producer Caren Zucker tell the story of Autism Today in a 6-part broadcast series beginning Monday, April 18, 2011 and a robust online component where viewers can join the conversation. Ms. Zucker has produced many stories on autism and is the mother of a 16-year old son with autism.

Monday, April 18 An introduction to Nick and autism as a whole body experience: MacNeil brings viewers along on a visit with his daughter and grandson Nick in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see how autism affects the whole family, including his 10-year-old sister, Neely. Nick experiences autism not just as a disorder in brain development but also as physical ailments affecting the whole body.

Tuesday, April 19 Autism Prevalence: Why are the numbers of children with autism increasing? At the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, California, MacNeil sees the wide range of different behaviors that comprise the autism spectrum. Anthropologist Richard Grinker argues that the rising numbers of children with autism is explained because conditions previously given other names, like mental retardation, are now included in the autism spectrum. Scientist Irva Hertz-Picciotto says the wider definition only partly explains the increased prevalence, pointing instead to a variety of environmental factors.

Wednesday, April 20 Autism Causes: The rise in autism numbers has caused a surge in research to find the causes. For the latest thinking, Robert MacNeil speaks with four leading researchers: Dr. Gerald Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, Dr. David Amaral of the MIND Institute, Dr. Martha Herbert of Harvard University and Dr. Craig Newschaffer of Drexel University.

Thursday, April 21 Autism Treatment: Although children with autism see doctors periodically, they go to school everyday. It is the school system that bears most of the burden of treating children with autism because treatment means education. MacNeil visits two schools in New York – a public school in the Bronx teaching 700 children with autism and a charter school created in Manhattan as a model of possibilities in educating children with autism. With only 30 students, it can use one-on-one teacher/student ratios employing intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis – the gold standard treatment for autism.

Monday, April 25 Adults with Autism: Although federal law mandates educational services for children with autism, there are virtually no services when they become adults. MacNeil profiles Zachary Hamrick in Mahwah, New Jersey, about to turn 21. As his family contemplates the uncertain future now facing hundreds of thousands of young people like him, his parents ask themselves, “What will happen when we die?”

Tuesday, April 26 Autism Policy: The NewsHour series ends with a discussion of the public policy issues raised in the series, including the enormous discrepancy in the quality and availability of services for children and future adults in what the federal committee that determines research priorities for autism now calls a “national health emergency” with a panel of experts including: Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Catherine Lord, Professor of Psychology, Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, Ilene Lainer, Executive Director of the New York Center for Autism – a private advocacy group, and John Shestack, a Hollywood producer and the co-founder of “Cure Autism Now” a former advocacy group.

PBS NEWSHOUR will host an online content hub that will offer easy access to video of all the pieces in the series, as well as web-only features that are part of Autism Today, including:

§ First Look Online: In a brand new online-on-air cross promotion, check the NewsHour’s website after each night’s broadcast during the week April 18: We’ll post the next chapter in the Autism Today series online by 7pm ET.

§ Autism 101 – A primer on autism, how it’s diagnosed, the spectrum of disorders, and available resources. We’ll also look at the costs of austim, through the lens of the families profiled in the series and others.

§ The Story of Donald – A new look at Caren Zucker and John Donvan’s profile of the first child diagnosed with autism as reported in The Atlantic.

§ Live Chat with Experts – Viewers can ask their questions directly to the experts and doctors profiled in the broadcast segments via live text chat moderated by PBS NEWSHOUR digital correspondent Hari Sreenivasan.

§ Ask Robin MacNeil – Hari Sreenivasan will preview the series with Robin MacNeil in a special interview on the Rundown news blog. MacNeil will also answer viewer questions after the series concludes.

§ Join us on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook: We want to hear how you or those you know are coping with autism. Use the Twitter hashtag #autismtoday to ask questions or join the conversation on the series.

PBS NEWSHOUR is seen five nights a week on more than 315 PBS stations across the country and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, in association with WETA Washington, DC, and THIRTEEN in New York. Major corporate funding for The NewsHour is provided by Chevron, Bank of America and Intel, with additional support from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.

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