Running for autism



David Deeter’s 13-year-old daughter, Saleen, has what the family calls “super-powers” in hearing and touch.

From the time she was in preschool, the sound of certain children’s songs would strike her ears in a way that would send her screaming from the room.

“It was because of the pitch. It was too high. It hurt her ears,” said Deeter, a fifth- and sixth-grade

science teacher and track and cross country coach in the Maplewood school district.

At the same time, the Deeter family found that Saleen was especially tuned in to touch, focusing on the feel of something — sometimes to the exclusion of everything else.

In that way, she’s a little like someone with attention deficit disorder because her focus on sound and touch can overtake her attention to other things.

During an interview last week at Maplewood High School, Deeter pointed out that a lighting fixture nearby was humming, something most people wouldn’t notice.

But for Saleen, that hum would take over her attention. “If you were trying to talk to her, she would not hear you. She’d be just focused on that,” Deeter said.

All three of the Deeter children — Shelby, 14, Saleen, and Sierra, 9 — have qualities that make them special, from performing on stage to humor to great ease in social situations, but people sometimes don’t understand Saleen’s “superpowers,” Deeter said.

“Saleen is not understood by many of her classmates and teachers because she looks at the world in a different way, and many people won’t take the time it takes to truly understand her,” he said.

Saleen knows she’s different from most kids, including her sisters, and has said it sometimes makes her feel “like an alien on another planet,” Deeter said.

“They openly talk. They openly do all sorts of things. They have friends,” Deeter said of his two other daughters. Saleen “has a real hard time dealing with other kids her own age or any age.”

Deeter and his then-wife, Lynn, took Saleen to Akron Children’s Hospital when she was still in preschool, and doctors diagnosed her with autism, though it took nearly three years. “It’s very hard to diagnose whether it’s autism, Asperger’s syndrome, where you’re at on the spectrum.”

After Dave Deeter qualified in 2012 to run in this year’s Boston Marathon, which is April 21, he decided to use the race as a way to help promote understanding of autism and raise money for research.

“Since I have a daughter with autism, I’m trying to get people to understand it more,” he said.

He registered with the Organization for Autism Research and is participating in its Run for Autism. More than 84 cents of every dollar raised goes to research studies, according to OAR’s website. To participate, visit

According to OARS, autism spectrum disorder is characterized by deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and the presence of repetitive behaviors or interests.

Autism has a range of severity and is found in all cultures and across all socioeconomic groups with the ratio of boys to girls being 4 to 1. In the past 30 years, its prevalence rate has skyrocketed, now believed to affect one out of every 88 children.

Dave Deeter has run in the Cleveland and Columbus marathons, but this will be his first time running in the prestigious Boston event, which will receive increased attention this year because of the bombings that killed three people and injured hundreds more last year.

Deeter said it’s obvious race organizers are focused on security. “Every week you get an email from Boston. Every email has dealt with security.”

Deeter qualified for the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon in 2012 by running a time of less than 3 hours 15 minutes, a challenge he overcame with inspiration from his daughters.

“I decided to dedicate my race to my three lovely daughters,” he said.

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