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By Daniel J. Vance


  "My son made the decision (before the National Spelling Bee) to go public about his disability and be an inspiration to others," said Forrest Green, the father of 15-year-old Mason Green, recently over the telephone.

  And Forrest is a proud father. His son Mason of Prior Lake, Minn., finished 16th this last May in the 2004 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Mason's disability is Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. People with Asperger's syndrome usually have trouble making friends, using and receiving non-verbal communication such as facial expression and eye-to-eye gaze, and showing emotional reciprocity. They also may adhere to inflexible routines and rituals, become intensely involved in specific patterns of interests, and exhibit repetitive motor mannerisms.

  In the National Spelling Bee, eventually Mason misspelled "longicollous." He hadn't seen it before," said Forrest.

  English is a melting pot of about 80 languages. To compete in the National Spelling Bee, students must learn the root formations and common groups of letters in those languages. In competition, participants can ask for a word's "root of origin" and for its meaning. They often must call on their knowledge of languages to spell a word without ever having studied it.

  Mason is a natural-born speller who has enjoyed reading and memorizing the dictionary from early on.

  Prior to the Bee, his peers often picked on him. "But the Bee was a confidence builder for him," said Forrest, an airlines pilot. "Now at school he's sort of a celebrity. He's making a lot of progress in being able to form relationships. In June, First Lady Laura Bush came to a rally near here and asked Mason to lead everyone in the pledge of allegiance. She said, 'Thank you very much, Mason Green.' Later there she personally met our family. Recently she sent a Christmas card."

  Forrest added, "A child with a disability deserves recognition no matter what they have accomplished, even if that accomplishment is manipulating a fork to put spaghetti in their own mouth. It isn't easy having a disability. For Mason, every day is a hard day. It's great for him to receive recognition from teachers, peers and principals."

  Some of Mason's success in Washington could be attributed to his brother Daron, 7, born with Down syndrome. Forrest said that nerves usually affect the outcome of a spelling bee and Daron's constant presence helped calm Mason.

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