By Dolores Bader
There was a short-lived news story in the media last week about an autistic boy missing from a well-known Iowa camp. It was short-lived because the boy was quickly found by camp personnel. That story reminded me of another one, a story waiting to be told from the walls of a home on Bishop Avenue in this community. It is the story of Clarice and Robert Burkgren and their beautiful little girl Beth who is now an adult. The Burkgrens came face to face with autism years ago when knowledge and support were much different stories than they are today. It’s a book waiting (ready?) to be written, and who more qualified than the Burkgrens?
Though retired, Clarice and Bob continue to serve as educators. Both taught at La Porte City High School. Clarice was the Home Economics instructor while Bob taught the technicalities of Industrial Arts. They have also been instrumental in putting forth positive information and action on behalf of the mentally challenged for decades. Their fateful journey began with the discovery of the world of autism, with their daughter Beth, at a time when autism was an oddity unfamiliar to many people. Thanks to the efforts of the Burkgrens and many others like them, the formation of groups like the Autism Society, a national organization, and the Iowa Autism Society, headquartered in Des Moines, make things much different today. There is new light that shines on the subject and new hope for those facing the challenges of raising a child with autism.
The problem is people like me. I see and I hear the stories, but my level of comprehension is limited. I know that the Burkgrens are capable of writing a professional testament about the disorder, but I doubt my ability to understand it. So I see two publications, one at the intellectual level and the other directed to the hearts of us lesser mortals, who need to read the personal story about the parent–child relationship when communication and comprehension are difficult, if not impossible. I hope it’s time to tell the story.