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The School That Mom Built: The Power of One

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- In 1977, Judy Weber was a homemaker struggling to control her autistic son. Because she refused to send him to a mental institution, her decision changed the lives of thousands of children just like him.

The conversations are still one-sided, but Tobin Weber has come a long way since his mother first learned he was autistic.

Judy Weber, Tobin's mom, is the executive director of Tobinworld in Glendale, Calif. "They said he'd be a vegetable and couldn't even be toilet trained," Judy remembers.

They were wrong. However, Judy had to build her own school to prove it. Tobinworld opened in 1977 with just six students. Today, more than 300 autistic and emotionally disturbed children are educated there. The students learn on state-of-the-art computers with personal attention from a staff of 150.

At first, it wasn't easy to get started. For two years, Judy wore down California state legislators until they funded her program. Friends raised $50,000 for start-up costs.

Today, her $7.5 million non-profit school includes a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop run by its students.

"I want them to be able to do something to earn a living and not be a drain on society," says Judy.

As for the boy who inspired Tobinworld? He now dresses himself, is toilet trained, and lives with an aide in his own apartment. Tobin proved the experts wrong and showed a soft-spoken homemaker she could make a difference.

"I had this baby that needed my help, and I didn't think I was capable of it and I can't believe it was me," says Judy.

Children attend Tobinworld at no cost to their parents. State and federal funding picks up the tab. The Los Angeles-based school now has a branch in San Francisco.

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Copyright 2001 Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc.