Autistic child's breakthrough gains worldwide fame


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist Erin Coker

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

Posted on July 1, 2013 at 5:54 PM

Updated Monday, Jul 1 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- When Margret Ericsdottir decided to film a documentary about pursuing a better life for her son with autism, she had no idea the profound impact it would have.

With Autism now affecting one in every 50 children -- boys four times more likely than girls -- this mother's amazing story may be just what other families out there need to see.

"I am real." Those are the first words she ever heard her son say,  and he was 10-years-old at the time. But he didn't use his voice. Autism had claimed it. Here's how they and an Austin clinic helped him find it.    

Gazing at the sun on a picturesque cliff in his home country of Iceland, Keli Thorsteinsson's autism prevented him from communicating his thoughts.  At least, that's what experts told his mother.

"I was told by all the specialists in the field that he was mentally retarded and would maybe have the intellectual capabilities of a two-year-old," said Ericsdottir.

Unwilling to accept that diagnosis, Keli's parents tried several therapies and techniques designed to break through the autism -- with no success.

"They failed giving him a voice; they failed giving him a communication," said Ericsdottir.

She made the difficult decision to leave Iceland for the United States. After crisscrossing the country she discovered the Halo Clinic in Austin, founded by Soma Mukhopadhyay, who used her rapid prompting method to teach her own autistic son.

"Soma gives these non-verbal, autistic children a voice," said Ericsdottir. "She gives them an outlet for communication."  

It's where Keli found his voice using Soma's letter-board technique. It's when his mother first learned of his passion to play piano. Now Keli's music fills his family's Steiner Ranch home. Proof his mother says that not only does he understand but also communicate.

"(He can now express) his desires, his dreams and all the treasures which reside within him," said Ericsdottir.

Keli's story got the attention of actress Kate Winslet. She narrated what is now the HBO documentary "A Mother's Courage: Talking Back to Autism."

Winslet used Keli's story and others with autism who've had their intellectual capabilities untapped to create the Golden Hat Foundation. One main goal will be to help autistic kids get the education they may be lacking.

"We are working towards our goal of establishing innovative living campuses designed to honor and empower all individuals in the spectrum, and the prototype campus is planned for the greater Austin area," said Bethany Gartin, the Outreach and Development Manager for the Golden Hat Foundation.

"If there's hope for my son -- which there is -- I believe there's hope for every autistic child in the world," said Ericsdottir.

Keli -- now 16 -- is a student at Vandegrift High School with a 3.9 grade point average. His musical compositions will be debuted at Carnegie Hall later this year.

The Golden Hat Foundation will hold a fundraiser at the Dell Diamond on August 17th.  Check out the link below for more information on the organization and the fundraiser:


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