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Former NFL star talks on raising autistic twins

DAVE BOLING | 6/12/2017, 10:46 a.m.
Curt Warner dodged the questions for years.
Curt Warner, center, a former football running back who played for Penn State, the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, joined by his wife Ana Warner, left, and his oldest son Jonathan Warner, right, shares stories about his family's experiences with autism, while delivering the closing keynote address of the National Autism Conference at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center in State College, Pennsylvania, Aug. 1, 2013. Abby Drey of the Centre Daily Times

Centre Daily Times

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) – Curt Warner dodged the questions for years.

How come we never see you? Is something wrong?

People want answers when someone such as Warner, a famed and beloved Seattle Seahawks star, withdraws from the public eye for more than 20 years. Warner and his wife, Ana, never knew what to tell people.

If they detailed the around-the-clock challenges of raising their twin autistic sons, people might think they were complaining, or were ungrateful for lives that included so many gifts. They certainly didn’t want to give that impression.

“People would ask me why I didn’t do things in public or make appearances,” Curt said. “I just always knew that [Ana] needed my help here, at home, with the family. That was always my No. 1 priority.”

Warner famously recovered from a career-threatening knee reconstruction early in his career as an All-Pro running back for the Seahawks in the 1980s. So he understood pain, and knew what it took to reach deep inside for the strength to overcome it.

But merely thinking of his boys’ suffering, and the unrelenting stress he and Ana faced, often would bring him to tears. He discovered it was better to just keep quiet about it.

“There were so many times we were in disbelief at what was going on,” Curt said. “For a long time, we wondered how far we could go without breaking.”

At first they didn’t know why their young twins, Austin and Christian, were so far behind their developmental benchmarks.

They were such wonderful, pure-hearted boys, so loving and innocent. Yet they often raged inconsolably, and grew increasingly violent and destructive.

Belatedly diagnosed on the lower-functioning end of autism spectrum disorder, the twins sometimes pounded their heads on the floor and kicked holes in walls, or bit themselves bloody – despite Curt and Ana’s every attempt to comfort them.

In 2008, Austin discovered where matches were hidden and set a fire in his bedroom that burned their house almost to the ground.

Now 22, the twins’ health and long-term care needs are still at issue, and their ability to communicate is limited, but their behavior is largely controlled.

Curt and Ana decided it now was time to reveal some of the details of their lives, hoping that their story might inspire others coping with extraordinary family challenges.

They have written a book, Waiting for a Miracle, outlining their experiences. It’s currently being shopped to publishers.

The book traces the dramatic twists taken in what appeared to be storybook lives: he the three-time Pro Bowl back for the Seattle Seahawks and two-time All-American at Penn State, and she the aspiring model from Brazil.

“We’ve got a better sense of peace about it now,” Ana said. “We still worry, but we can talk about it now, and for so long, even that was painful.”

“It’s been a jagged road we’ve traveled,” Curt added. “But here we are.”

THE MODEL COUPLE

Fresh in from Brazil, Ana Teresa Mendes Costa might have been the only person in Seattle who didn’t know Curt Warner on sight. She was dressed in high-fashion Dior and modeling at the Bon Marche downtown when an athletic young man walked toward her in October 1989.