Not making eye contact, focusing on toys with lights or spinning wheels — these were warning signs for Barry Saywitz's family.
Saywitz's son Ryan was diagnosed with autism at age 2, but it gave his treatment the early start researchers say can make a difference in the childhood development of the 1 in 110 children facing autism spectrum disorders.
Ryan, now 7, has graduated from the special-education program and now goes to class with "typical" children, meaning those who do not necessarily have autism.
"Fortunately, we were able to catch it early," Saywitz said.
Saywitz, a Newport Beach resident and president of the Saywitz Co. real estate brokerage and consulting firm, was able to provide his son with the help he needed. He attributes that fact to Ryan's success, but he knows his son isn't the only one affected.
Saywitz is raising awareness and funds for programs and services devoted to help those with the disability at "An Evening for Autism" on Saturday in his Newport Beach home.
"It's not like other types of medical conditions that you take a pill and you're OK," Saywitz said. "You have to work at it every day."
Creating a curriculum to meet each individual child's needs — because her students land across the autism spectrum — is the challenge she faces.
The reward is watching their growth, Just said.
"I was really touched to be honored for my work with autistic students," said Paularino Principal Stacy de Boom-Howard, who is also being honored. "They being true joy to my life."
The other honorees are Harbor View Elementary School Principal Charlene Metoyer; Harbor View special daycare teacher Renee Tedford; Eastbluff Elementary School psychologist Kristy Becker; autism specialist Bonnie Hinton; Woodland Elementary School teacher Michelle Lambright; Lincoln Elementary School's Kathy Murphy; Kaiser Elementary science teacher Tricia Lamb; and autism specialist Tammy White.
The tropical-themed event will feature live and silent auctions, four bands, food from seven Orange County restaurants, eight bars and a dozen celebrities.
"It's a party," he said. "The whole idea was that we didn't want to have another rubber-chicken, stuffy kind of event."
The program raises money for Newport-Mesa Unified's autism programs, ACT Today!, Autism Society of America, Easter Seals Southern California and Talk About Curing Autism.
Last year, the event brought in more than $200,000.
During the event, the school district will honor several of its employees, including Paularino Elementary School teacher Michelle Just, who has worked with autistic preschoolers for 10 years.
If you go
What: "An Evening for Autism" to benefit Newport-Mesa Unified's autism programs, Autism Care and Treatment Today, Autism Society of America, Easter Seals Southern California and Talk About Curing Autism.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Host Barry Saywitz's Newport Beach home
Cost: $150 a person. Tickets are limited.