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TRANSCRIPT; CNN/PAULA ZAHN NOW
Aired April 20, 2005 - 20:00 ET
Repeat airings (edited) May, 2005; November, 2005


...Coming up next, some new hope for children with a different kind of disorder, one that affects their minds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERI BOWERS, MOTHER OF TAYLOR CROSS: I want parents to know that you raise the bar. You shoot for the stars. You never, ever let your kids get too comfortable because that's where they live. You need to challenge them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Overcoming autism: yes, it can be done. Please stay with us and see how.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The month of April happens to be National Autism Awareness Month. And it is believed that half a million children in the United States are now living with autism.

It's a mysterious disorder of the mind where children feel frightened, isolated, misunderstood. But for one autistic young man and his mother, the struggle led to an unexpected journey of achieving a beautiful dream.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The challenge for me, it has to be the challenge of life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is like putting a label on somebody and calling them that. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have been teased.

ZAHN (voice-over): They are the honest, candid emotions of autistic teenagers captured by this 16-year-old documentary film maker.

TAYLOR CROSS: My dream is to be a film maker and this will look good on my resume.

ZAHN: But for Taylor Cross to even consider that dream was a long shot. You see Taylor, too, is autistic.

CROSS: Back then I was in my own little world. When I was younger than that, I was also told that I may never be able to walk and talk and other stuff like that. But I did show them, didn't I?

ZAHN (on camera): What do you want people to know about the hardest thing about being autistic?

T. CROSS: It's that you know you're not like everyone else. And like you're striving to be like everyone else, but you just can't get to that level.

ZAHN: So chasing the dream that is not even realistic basically?

T. CROSS: Yes.

ZAHN (voice-over): Taylor and his mother, Keri Bowers, had been chasing that dream for years. Since the day Taylor was born, life had been a challenge.

Those first years usually filled with excitement and wonder were filled with frustration and heartache. Taylor missed every major milestone. He didn't make sounds, crawl or smile. And he couldn't give his mother the one thing that all new parents yearn for.

BOWERS: My son couldn't hug me and he wasn't speaking and he wasn't crawling -- his head was like a floppy doll and he had no muscle tone, very little muscle tone.

ZAHN (on camera): How devastating was that for you?

BOWERS: I was angry. How dare you not love me.

I just thought that I was somehow a bad mother.

ZAHN (voice-over): A frustrating journey, misdiagnoses and confusion began. Some call it mentally retarded, others called it developmentally delayed. Whatever words they used, the prognosis was grim.

It would take six years and dozens of hospital visits before Taylor was correctly diagnosed: high functioning autism, a mysterious brain disorder that leads to a variety of developmental problems.

BOWERS: I decided that we're in this together. And we'll do -- I'm so surprised I'm this emotional -- we'll do whatever we need to do together, except we'll never ask why God? Why me, again?

I started working with Taylor very, very young. And I did some things that people consider controversial or questionable.

ZAHN: And aggressive.

BOWERS: Very aggressive.

ZAHN: You made him use language when he was inclined not to talk.

BOWERS: He had a few words so I knew he could say a few words. He would point up to the cupboard and say eat, eat. And I would look at him and say if you're hungry, you have got to say two words. Give me two words. I'm hungry. Want eat. Food please. Something. And then I would leave the room. And eventually -- I didn't starve him, don't get me wrong.

ZAHN: He doesn't look like it, mom. At 6'7, I think he's doing just fine.

BOWERS: It was a way for him to begin to reach higher.

ZAHN (voice-over): Taylor never stopped growing -- every day overcoming the challenges that face many autistics like feeling bombarded, and overwhelmed by the fast-paced world.

BOWERS: The world doesn't slow down for the children. And they process on a very different level. When he has very stressful situations socially he'll come home and sleep for hours.

ZAHN (voice-over): Socially, life can be especially difficult for autistic teenagers especially as they navigate the turbulent waters of high school.

(on camera): Have they picked on you because they think you are different?

CROSS: Yes, that's true.

ZAHN: And how do you deal with that?

CROSS: Normally, I'm angry about it. But I don't get too emotional about it. And I'll have problems with telling it to an adult or something.

BOWERS: Taylor has been physically assaulted twice by two different boys in the last six months.

ZAHN: At his school?

BOWERS: At his school. Now he's 6'7. He's a big kid. These kids, I think, they sense a certain sweetness, a certain weakness if you will, a certain naivete. And he was assaulted, hit in the face and didn't tell a soul he had been harassed for months. ZAHN (voice-over): A painful time for any teen. But Taylor is learning to deal with the bullies and others that look at him as different.

How? Well, that brings us back to his documentary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work with students with severe disabilities.

ZAHN: Taylor hopes it will break down the barriers between his autistic community and the outside, quote, "normal" world. The documentary is being shown at film festivals as well as in local schools. Taylor has won awards. And has decided to transform his 10 minute documentary into a feature film so more people will see it.

(on camera): What do you dream about doing some day? Do you think about that?

CROSS: I got it planned out. I want to do this and that and that. Like for now I just want to be a film maker. I'm hoping to go to college here at NYU. There's a bunch of other stuff I want to do, too.

ZAHN: So you are a pretty happy guy, aren't you?

CROSS: I guess you could say so.

ZAHN: What is it that you want other parents to know about what their life might be like once they get a diagnosis of autism?

BOWERS: I want parents to know that you raise the bar, you shoot for the stars, you never, ever let your kids get too comfortable because that's where they live. You need to challenge them. You need to push them.

CROSS: Challenge, entice and educate. That's what she shoots for.

BOWERS: Oh, I like that. Oh, oh, he's so good. Isn't he wonderful?

ZAHN: It sounds like you learned that lesson. Or you're sick of hearing it from mom. One of the two.

BOWERS: A little of both.

CROSS: A little of both.

ZAHN (voice-over): A path this mother and son started down 16 years ago, an unexpected journey this mother has learned to love and to cherish.

BOWERS: He'll just be one of those creative, wonderful individuals who is a little quirky, that's all. So to touch, move and inspire people, I think that's finally, ultimately our goal.

CROSS: Yes. That is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: I think we have a lot to learn from both Taylor and his mother.

Taylor is now working with a producer, Joey Travolta. That name might sound familiar, because that's John Travolta's brother. And they are talking about turning his documentary into a feature film. And they hope to have it done sometime this October.

And Taylor's mother, Keri has started a nonprofit group called Pause for Kids to help children with special needs in their Southern California community. You can find out more about that and about Taylor's film at pauseforkids.com.

We're moving up on 13 minutes before the hour. You might know what that means. I do. Time to check in with Erica Hill at HEADLINE NEWS.

Did that mother and son blow you away?

HILL: Absolutely, incredible. We can all learn a lot from both of them like you said.