Mother of lost hiker looks to educate others about autism

Mother of lost hiker looks to educate others about autism »Play Video
Alex Irvin.

PORTLAND, Ore- He spent the entire night lost in the Gorge, just the latest reminder to Alex Irvin's family that a little freedom can come with a price.

"The tension between offering Alex opportunities for him to be independent, and navigating his safety, it's always the most challenging," Alex's mother, Jill Irvin said.

But Jill Irvin wasn't always willing to give her son, who has autism, leeway. When he was younger she kept things very regimented.

But as Alex got older, he began to push back.

"I started to understand that underneath all these autistic behaviors, there was this teenage boy who wanted to start to have some control of his life," Jill Irvin said.

So she got creative. She started cold calling dozens of places all across Portland, trying to land Alex a job as a volunteer.

Soon he was a regular at the Chinese Garden. His job of sweeping up cobwebs sounds simple, but to Alex, it was life-changing.

"He leaves with a sense of pride I don't think I've ever seen in him in his life," Jill Irvin said.

Jill started tracking his progress on this blog, hoping other families will learn from their mistakes and successes.

Jill knows there will be setbacks along the way, but she's optimistic that as more and more people learn about autism, they'll realize her son really isn't so different after all.

"We have to make a decision on whether we bundle them up somewhere or do we teach the community and them that we all can coexist together," Jill Irvin said.