Actress Kathryn Morris, famed for her role as a sharp-witted detective on the CBS series ‘Cold Case,’ has stepped into the spotlight for a different reason this time — her experience as a mother to twin boys diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Eight years ago, Morris welcomed her twin sons into the world. At age three, the boys received their ASD diagnosis, triggering an intense period of adjustment for the family. Morris, like many parents plunged into the world of autism, initially felt overwhelmed. Autism, a complex disorder affecting one in 54 children in the U.S. according to the CDC, is often difficult to navigate, with no definitive guide or roadmap to follow. As Morris told TODAY, her story was hard, but it was worth the ride in the end:
“This is my own awesome story that was f*cking hard and then got to the tears of joy part. My worst fear and now my greatest accomplishment.”
For many, the diagnosis can cause confusion, panic, and a feeling of isolation. But Morris refused to let the disorder define her family’s life. Leveraging her resources as a successful actor, she dedicated herself to finding treatments and support for her sons. However, the actress knows it may not be that easy for others:
“I was fortunate as an actor to have the resources to put my life on the back burner and turn over every stone to get treatment and help. But not everyone has those resources.”
Morris’ determined quest led her to early intervention therapies and specialized services, critical elements that contribute to managing and sometimes even improving symptoms of ASD. She bonded with other moms struggling with the same issues, and they helped each other through this journey:
“I boarded the slo-mo train of early intervention therapies with weepy moms in the same crisis. We bonded, and compared notes about being excluded by others and enduring judgment at the park.”
Her twin boys exhibited severe symptoms of autism. Non-verbal communication, intense sensitivity, severe sleep deprivation, and physical challenges such as weak balance and muscles were part of their daily struggles:
“Our healthy toddler with sparkling green eyes disappeared into a fog of severe autism: non-verbal, inconsolable despair, mystery illnesses, gastrointestinal infections, intense ear and body sensitivity, severe sleep deprivation, balance and muscles so weak he could not walk steady or sit in a chair without falling off. He was often only stable in his father’s arms. His talkative blue-eyed twin was the charming prom king at first — but soon also became sickly and went from ‘wild child’ into extreme sensory overload, with aggression toward others and himself as well as seizures during our frequent all-nighters together.”
But with consistent care, dedication, and expert support, changes began to emerge. Morris’s non-verbal son began to express himself, to laugh, sing, and walk steadily. His brother, who had suffered from seizures and aggressive behavior, saw his symptoms fade and his condition stabilize:
“My children began to get better. My non-verbal son came out of his fog and began to talk, laugh, sing, sleep, walk steadily, and run. ‘Mama, I love you,’ he said. He was happy. My lawyer got him into a transition class where he excelled and rode bikes with his new best friend at recess. Our wild pirate slept like a lamb through the night, his aggression fading and his seizures under control.”
Despite her family’s private battle, Morris faced professional challenges. She had to manage her sons’ special needs alongside her career demands, often navigating the judgment of others. Yet, she persevered, driven by her unwavering love for her children:
“I saw professional women leaving their jobs when employers grew weary of their mom ‘situation.’ I wondered, ‘How would Hollywood work with me with my special needs mama problem?’ I was advised by some actors to keep it to myself, as a ‘maternal affliction’ does not really fit on the call sheet. I resented it.”
During her journey, Morris discovered a wider community that echoed her own experiences. She encountered other families battling financial difficulties, managing demanding schedules, and coping with societal judgment. She found solace and guidance in organizations like The Autism Community in Action (TACA):
“I got the kind recommendation to take care of myself and get to TACA (a family-support organization called The Autism Community in Action) for a mentor and free resources. I met the O.G. mom, Lisa Ackerman, who founded TACA. I also met her grown son with autism, who is now in college — and I found HOPE.”
Founded by Ackerman, TACA provides essential support, resources, and a sense of community to families dealing with ASD.
Even though Morris’s journey was fraught with challenges, it was filled with glimmers of hope and improvement. Today, her sons are living proof of how early intervention and the right support can positively impact children with ASD:
“Our boys still have autism; their early interventions gave them wellness. I am sleeping again — thriving as a person now and re-engaging with my career as an actor and producer.”
As Morris is aware that not everyone has access to the resources she had, she advocates for more support and resources for the wider autism community. In 2021, she launched ‘The Savants,‘ an initiative to shift the paradigm around ASD.
This deeper understanding and firsthand experience have given Morris a fresh perspective on ASD. Now, she is committed to using her platform to raise awareness about autism and its impact on families. As the pandemic had intensified the need for support, safety nets, and resources, Morris hopes her story can inspire action, encourage understanding, and bring to light the often unseen struggles faced by the autism community:
“We are shifting the paradigm right now. We’re done with the “off the rack” language and social stigmas. We’re here to make the conversation better with the misguided yet well-meaning mainstream looking for a manual. … The broader the base of voices that we bring into this conversation, the stronger the likelihood that we leave no stone unturned as we educate and advocate for our loved ones.”
In Morris’ words, they deserve more than acceptance — they deserve action.