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Erik In The News
Using His Skills
by Phyllis J. Zorn

It's amazing that Erik Warren can produce fine woodwork, given the fact that he can't hold much of a conversation - but his woodworking business has taken on a new dimension.

Erik, 35, has autism, a profound and poorly understood developmental disorder that interferes with his ability to communicate and relate with others.

Erik took up using a scroll saw about 20 years ago, and over time, his hobby became a way of making a living as well as a way of making sense out of his life.

He started making puzzles, ornaments and decorative crosses. The quality of Erik's work quickly made his creations popular both near and far. His wooden items are sold in many local and regional shops. They are for sale at Brown's Shoe Fit, U-Save Pharmacy, Impressions Everlasting and the gift shop at St. Fidelis Church. They also are sold in two markets along Interstate 70.

"He's been in Kansas Originals about four or five years," said Erik's father, Jim Warren.

An expandable Nativity scene and an expandable tree remain the most popular sellers.

Now Erik is producing larger, more detailed pieces - the most popular of which is an image of a praying Jesus. The Italian artist who developed the design, Santomarco Enzo, was happy to give the pattern to Erik to use.

Jim Warren first spotted the praying Jesus image.

"I saw that in a magazine," Jim Warren said. "It was from a man in Italy. I had an assistant to Erik contact him and tell him a little about Erik."

Enzo responded by mailing a copy of the pattern along with a note that read, "Enclosed my pattern Jesus in Prayer, for friend Erik, OK. A regard and an embrace."

The Jesus in Prayer involves finishing touches applied by woodburning. It is finished with a protective coating and enclosed in an 11-by-14-inch frame.

Erik also is making licensed college mascot images - Kansas State University's powercat, Fort Hays State University's Victor E. Tiger and the University of Kansas' Jayhawk. The mascots are in the team colors.

Erik also does custom scroll saw pieces to order. That portion of his business is growing, his father said.

"We're getting more requests for custom work all the time," Jim Warren said.

Story Created: December 5, 2006
* Photo Courtesy of Hays Daily News
* Design by Enzo Santomarco

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Autistic Man Shares Talent
by 13 News

A special event at the Kansas Expocentre has brought out a special Kansan and his remarkable talent. It's the Autism Expo today and tomorrow.

And just outside the Expo is Erik. He's set up with a special workshop for the two-day event. Outside, he demonstrates his woodwork skills.

"Can't really have conversation with you at all, but he is very skilled when it comes to a scroll saw," said Erik's caretaker. "It's been real rewarding to see how he's progressed just in the four years I've been with him. It's pretty neat. It's what he does."

He does such a good job that people buy his work. Kansas universities have even let him have rights to sell projects with school mascots and logos on them. The funds from the sales help pay for Erik's long-term care.

You can see Erik and attend the Autism Expo tomorrow between 7:45 a.m. and one p.m.

Story Created: Apr 17, 2007 at 10:57 PM

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Encouraging Talents Can Help with Autism
by Kia Carter (KSNT)

Having a child these days also means having to worry about autism. The Autism Society of America says one in 150 babies born have autism. 27 News has the story of an autistic man from Hays with a talent that helps him cope.

These are the hands of a man skillfully working wood around a scroll saw, but also the hands of a man limited by autism.

"He started working on scroll saw 15 years ago, he was always talented at it but now he's really gotten good," says Jim Warren, whose son has autism.

A booth inside the autism seminar at the Expocentre shows you his work and his company. Thirty-five-year-old Erik Warren has a license to make and sell mascot artwork for four Kansas Universities.

"He's been doing it 15 years now and its become his life. When he wakes up, after his shower that is, he says, .Scroll saw! Scroll saw!" says Erik's Caregiver.

Erik's hands dance around the blade as it cuts, his fingers so close to danger, but in 15 years he's only nicked himself once. Amazing for a man can do so much with his body, but because of his autism, can't express his self with words.

"He has a great power of deduction and he's very bright, but he doesn.t have much language, maybe a few words," says Jim.

He sings while he works his dad says, something that tells him this work gives his son peace.

"His life is in his hands and when he's working he's doesn't have his compulsions," says Jim.

His work has become a healthy compulsion one that's helped him and his family deal through the years.

"He stays at this for hours so it.s not only good for him, but good for us, so it works," says Jim.

A tip he has for other parents dealing with autism, help your child find their talent.

You can see or purchase Erik's work Wednesday outside the autism seminar at the Expocentre from 8 am to 1 pm.

Story Created: Apr 17, 2007 at 6:50 PM EDT

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Autistic Man's Creations Designed To Provide Care
by Phyllis J. Zorn

In a workshop at 116 East 12th Street, Erik Warren stands at a jigsaw rapidly cutting a delicate pattern of lilies in the center of cedar Easter crosses, one after another.

Erik is 29. He started using a jigsaw about 15 years ago for pleasure and a pastime. He has quite a knack for it and became good enough at his carving to make marketable creations.

What started as a pastime has become part of a mission to provide a suitable home for Erik when his parents, Jim and Lynda Warren, are no longer able to provide the care he needs.

Erik has autism, a profound and poorly understood developmental disorder that interferes with his ability to communicate and relate with others. People with autism themselves often are likened to a jigsaw puzzle.

While many people with autism can successfully train for jobs in the community, the Warrens know Erik isn´t one of them. Because of the severity of Erik´s difficulties with communication and social relations, he isn´t likely to ever hold a job preparing fast food or bagging groceries.

One ongoing challenge for Erik and his parents is improving the clarity of his speech. Erik speaks well enough to convey his wants and needs, but not clearly enough to always be understood. Part of the problem is that he speaks too rapidly. Someone who hasn´t spent time around him would have a hard time understanding what Erik is saying. He is taking speech therapy at Fort Hays State University to make his speech understandable.

"The big push today is to put everyone in the community," Jim Warren said. "I want him on his own turf."

What Jim Warren hopes to accomplish is for Erik to live as independently as possible, given the support he needs from the partnership forged between him and Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas. His goal is to initiate a program tailored to fit Erik´s needs.

That doesn´t mean Jim Warren is opposed to programs that prepare people with developmental disabilities for community-based living. It means he believes Erik needs something else.

"There´s a need for both. Some people go very successfully in the community," Jim Warren said.

He bought a piece of land east of Hays he started calling the "Field of Dreams." It´s a farm project. Last year, a handful of DSNWK clients worked the farm, planting crops and selling the produce. This year, Erik will do more for the farm than just help raise crops. The proceeds from the sale of Erik´s jigsaw Easter crosses will go to support Field of Dreams Produce Farm.

"In the Field of Dreams project, Erik gets to do many outdoor projects that he likes, as he is an outdoors guy," Jim Warren said. "When he mows, if it can´t be reached with the mower, he will stop, get off the mower and finish with his hands. Erik is a very precise, thorough worker, but he must be shown exactly how you want it the first time because changes are extra hard for him."

Whatever Erik is doing, he´s driven to finish no matter how long it takes, Jim Warren said. Besides working with the jigsaw, Erik´s preoccupations have included making latch hook rugs and working with a loom.

Persuading Erik to stop what he´s working on so he can eat or sleep can be difficult.

"I think his life is in his hands, and when they are busy he has peace of mind," Jim Warren said.

Life with Erik hasn´t been what his parents expected when he was born. But it´s been no tragedy, either. Despite the difficulty and frustrations they faced raising a child with autism, his parents are thankful for the gift of Erik.

"It's been a real challenge and we´ve had a lot of frustration," Lynda Warren said. "But if you sit around with others and put your difficulties on the table, you'd be sure to take your own back. We´'ve had lots of challenges, but we´'ve had a lots of joys in there."

"My life´s a thousand times funnier than (the movie) Rain Man ever thought of being," Jim Warren said. "I never pictured this coming, but now I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I am thankful for what I have, let me tell you."

Erik's one shortcoming in his father's eyes, but even this he finds funny is his tendency to pilfer Pepsi.

"Anyone who knows Erik and knows he's coming their way gets real creative about what to do with their Pepsi," Jim Warren said. "You set it down, it's gone. I would say he's a serial Pepsi thief."

Erik is a puzzle his parents will never completely piece together.

"He's like magic to me, he's a total mystery," Jim Warren said. "He takes care of himself in his own ways, but yet he can never be left alone."

When Erik was still small, his parents began to sense something about their son was different. When Lynda Warren held Erik as a baby, he didn´t snuggle against her as most babies do.

Erik was unresponsive to most sounds, almost as if he was deaf - except when the weather warning tones came over the television. When the tones sounded, Erik came from wherever he was to stand in front of the television.

That's one of the puzzle pieces that fell into place when Erik was diagnosed with autism.

"That's one of the hallmarks of autism," Lynda Warren said.

When children with autism are very young, nothing clues their parents or physician that anything is amiss. For the first several months, their development is normal. When Erik was young and began to babble, the Warrens pictured Erik teaching his brother, Jason, to talk. Jason, now 32, is developmentally disabled. He was slow to learn speech.

That was before they knew Erik had autism.

"There was a time when Erik was a real ham for the camera," Lynda Warren said. "Then there was a time he was not."

The understanding of the obstacle Erik faced -- his autism -- came slowly and painfully to the Warrens.

Neither Jim nor Lynda knows as much about autism as they wish they knew, even after 29 years of living with a son who has it.

"You have to have a good attitude and a sense of humor with this," Jim Warren said. "We're playing the hand we were dealt as best we can."

The Warrens have built their lives around meeting the needs of their sons.

"If I hadn't been self-employed, I could never have lived this life with these boys," Jim Warren said.

Erik's brother Jason has characteristics both his parents recognize as classically autistic behaviors, though he is inordinately social and has been diagnosed only with mental retardation. Jason is obsessively interested in cars, in things that spin and in making them spin, and he has shown that certain sounds bother him.

Neither of the parents is completely convinced autism is genetic, yet neither will rule the possibility out.

Besides the Easter crosses Erik is working on now, he makes pteranodons and dinosaur puzzles, sold at the Sternberg Museum gift shop, that are simple enough for toddlers. His other carvings, of various designs, are sold at Pizza Huts in Plainville, Stockton, Hill City and WaKeeney.

The Easter crosses are for sale at DSNWK offices in Hays, Colby, Oakley, Atwood, Hill City, Norton and Russell and at Top Notch Cleaners, Purdy's Pharmacy, Vagabond Restaurant and Mr. Goodcents in Hays.

Story Created: April 8, 2001

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