James Burns: Clinton inspires one racer's charity

January 28, 2009 

Burns, James

James Burns, sports editor

LIVINGSTON -- Mom wants to protect her young son's innocence, so she kindly asks that you don't print his last name. Or hers.

You agree, because you understand people can be cruel. Especially 10-year-olds.

But there are things you feel everyone should know about her young son Clinton, so you press Mom for the finer details.

Details her son would have trouble expressing.

Like...

How he loves to watch videos on YouTube. Blue's Clues. Iron Man. Boats. Tigers. He'll watch anything that can be searched with one or two keywords.

Or...

How he likes to nibble on Nutter Butter cookies and Baked Lays potato chips.

And...

How he'll turn 11 soon, and the only thing odder than his chocolate-less birthday cake will be the hamburger-less hamburgers.

"He thinks chocolate stinks, if you can believe that," his mother Billie says with a laugh.

"And he refuses to eat red meat. He loves Burger King and McDonalds, but only for the buns and french fries. Red meat is too slimy to him."

The list goes on.

Fruit is too squishy.

Car alarms deafening.

Clinton is wired differently, and nobody -- not the smartest doctor in the world -- knows why.

He suffers from autism, a developmental disorder that affects an individual's ability to communicate and interact with others.

According to the Autism Society of America, 1.5 million people live with the spectrum disorder.

A 2007 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined 1 out of 150 American children are autistic, including 1 in 94 boys.

Clinton is that unlucky one.

He has sensory issues, which means everything -- light, sound, textures and even food -- affects him differently from you or I.

"Everything is altered," Billie said.

It wasn't always this way.

Clinton was a bubbly baby, attentive and engaging.

When he was 2, he suddenly slipped into a zone-like state and stopped responding to Billie's voice.

Then he began to hand-clap -- a physical act common amongst autistic children.

Said Billy: "He was very social and good at listening. When I called his name and he didn't respond or look, my first thought was hearing loss.

"I didn't know what autism was."

The answer would cost her thousands. Billie spent the next year searching for a diagnosis.

She bounced around from office to office, visiting speech pathologists, neurologists and psychologists, draining her bank account and maxing out her credit cards as she went.

Eventually, she filed for bankruptcy.

Eventually, she got what she was looking for: a proper and precise diagnosis.

"I think diagnosis is coming much faster and at an earlier age these days," Billie said. "But I also think people are too quick to give up. I've never given up on my child, period.

"Things are better, but they're not where they need to be. By far."

Carlos Vieira hopes to change that. Vieira is the owner/driver of 51Fifty Racing, a growing force on NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series here in the Central Valley.

In 2008, Vieira finished 13th in the state and 85th in the nation. In three years, he's watched his hobby explode into a full-fledged company.

His Livingston garage looks authentic. Like a miniature DEI or something. There's a big rig and traveling trailer. Four cars, one of which wears autism's puzzle piece logo. An office. And team members around every corner.

This season, Vieira believes 51Fifty is pointed toward a track and state championship.

And he wants autistic children like Clinton to share in the experience.

Vieira will donate all of his 2009 winnings to Race for Autism, a fundraising effort he began after a series of long, emotional chats with Billie.

His goal is to raise $50,000 by season's end -- but that number could double if 51Fifty brings home a state championship.

"I didn't think he was listening to me, quite honestly. I really didn't," Billie said. "I thought he was being tolerant."

Vieira is quickly becoming one of the Valley's leading advocates in autism research.

Last year, he presented Merced's Challenged Family Resource Center with a $22,700 check.

The donation has helped sustain the parent education center, pay for computers and other materials, as well as hire professional training for parents of autistic children.

"His donations were greatly appreciated," said Susan Garcia, a parent partner with Challenged.

"Many, many families have benefited and continue to benefit from those dollars."

Now imagine what Challenged or FEAT or Autism Speaks could do with $50,000? Or $75,0000? Or better yet, $100,000?

"I'm doing this because we need to do more than just spend our money at the race track or in the garage," Vieira said.

"We need to use our manpower and connections, and hopefully open some eyes.

"I don't have a family member with autism, no. But I have a friend whose boy has autism. He's my inspiration."

His name is Clinton.

And those are the things you should know about him.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

Race For Autism

WHAT: Carlos Vieira and 51Fifty Racing have pledged to raise $50,000 for autism research. To hit their mark, 51Fifty will donate all of their 2009 earnings to the cause.

DONATIONS: To make a donation, visit raceforautism.net.

CASINO NIGHT: 51Fifty will be hosting a Casino Night on Saturday, Feb. 28, at Livingston's Pentecost Hall on Main Street. Casino games begin at 7:30 p.m.

Local Autism Outreach

AUTISM SPEAKS: Autism Speaks aims to bring the autism community together as one strong voice to urge the government and private sector to listen to our concerns and take action to address this urgent global health crisis. It is our firm belief that, working together, we will find the missing pieces of the puzzle.

For more information, contact Michelle Rodriguez at (209) 614-6364. Rodriguez is the walk chair "Central Valley Walk Now For Autism."

FEAT-FMC: Families for Effective Autism Treatment Fresno/Madera County (FEAT-FMC) is a non-profit organization of parents and professionals, dedicated to help families with children who have received the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), or Asperger's Syndrome. It offers a network of support where families can meet each other and discuss issues surrounding autism and treatment options.

For more information, contact Chuck Genseal at (559) 232-9094.

CHALLENGED: At Challenged Family Resource Center, parent-to-parent support is the heart of our mission. Families lend a unique and special strength to the organization. Our staff is comprised of parents and those who have family members with disabilities.

For more information, contact director Judy Rehling at (209) 385-5314.

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