Mother Finds Mission As Autism Advocate. . . To Carry The Olympic Torch

[By Glenn Miller,]

Heather Harris received the news about her son’s autism when James
Patrick was 2 1/2. “They said he’d probably be mentally retarded and there was not a good chance of him speaking and not to expect a lot,” Harris said.
“I completely refused to acknowledge that as true. I went around the
area and found a lot of people in the area who had done a lot with autism
already. And so I found people who had been there and pooled all the

James Patrick is now 7 and a first-grader at Hancock Creek Elementary
School. Harris’ friend Pam Few nominated her to carry the Olympic torch.
Harris, 32, will tote the torch at 11:24 a.m. Saturday in Fort Lauderdale. Her husband, James, 31, will be there.

For Few, Harris’ refusal to allow autism to define James Patrick is
inspirational. “It was really difficult to accept it and for her to deal with it
but they did,” Few said. ” She’s worked quite extensively with the autism
society. She’s gone to Tallahassee for legislation to get autism educators
into schools. It’s been really hard for her to have a child that is hard
to communicate with.
With her constant diligence and working for autism and
the plight of autistics, James Patrick has just blossomed. He’s in regular
classrooms. He’s communicative. You can talk to him and he responds.
“A lot of autistic children don’t. They don’t have any depth or
dimension to their thought process or communicative abilities. James
Patrick has blossomed because of Heather’s diligence and working with him. She’s
an amazing person.”

Harris is a voracious reader of novels, biographies and histories. “This girl is constantly cheerful,” Few said. “She’s amazing. She is the most thoughtful person I’ve ever met and the most giving person I’ve ever met. She never dwells on the negative. I think she’s a pillar of what the torchbearer should stand for.”

Harris and her husband are both Navy veterans. They met when they
were stationed in the Philippines. They also have a 1 1/2-year-old son, Hank.
Harris is stunned she’ll carry the torch. “I’m not worthy,” she said. She believes the honor is more about others. “That I have a wonderful family and friends,” Harris. “I’ve been lucky to pick really good people to be around. I’m honored and surprised.”

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