John and David: The Ultimate Tag Team

Thriving with Fragile X

- John and David Clifton are the ultimate tag-team. They live together, like the same things, eat the same foods.

Their mother, Ruth Clifton, said they even talk at the same time.

"I get it in stereo, when they both talk to me. They talk to each other that way," said Mrs. Clifton.

John and David Clifton had pretty typical childhoods, but, what their parents didn't know back then is both have Fragile X syndrome, a genetic mutation that wouldn't be discovered until 1991.

Fragile X affects brain development, causing intellectual disability and behavioral problems, like anxiety, ADHD and depression.

"By the time he was 5 months old, I just felt like something was amiss," said Mrs. Clifton.

Ruth Clifton said John, now 50, seemed restless.

"I would see other babies his age and you would hand him something and they would reach out and take it.  And he would do this (flaps arms)," said Mrs. Clifton "I'd hold him on my lap and he'd throw himself forward and I'd pick him up and set him down and he would climb over my shoulder."

David, now 47, was born with a cleft lip and palate, and severe anxiety. But, Ruth said her boys were also quick learners, hyper-vigilant, and funny.

"We didn't have an actual diagnosis until John was 25 and David was 23. So, we were just kind of flying by the seat of our pants," said Mrs.Clifton.

Today, David spends his days on outings with a support group for adults with intellectual disabilities. He and his brother compete in the Special Olympics, too. John's is most proud of his job at S&S Cafeteria, where he's worked for 29 years. Helped by a job coach who shot this video, and a boss who gets accommodates John's need for structure and planning.

"Typically how restaurants do, they put up a schedule once a week. And that was driving him crazy. 'Am I going to be working Friday?' 'I don't know, John.' 'What about Saturday? What about Saturday!'" said Mrs. Clifton "So I just went in and asked his boss, 'Can you put him on a schedule?' And he said, 'Sure.'”

Dr. Catharine Riley, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health scientist at the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, studies families like the Cliftons, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't work for people with Fragile X.

"What we can do here at CDC is help figure out the best tools and what resources and interventions can actually help them be as productive as they want to be. And help them live their life to the fullest," said Dr. Riley.

And for John and David life - in stereo - seems doubly sweet.

"It's taken a lifetime to get it this way. I always knew this is what I wanted. I wanted them together because they're the best of friends," said Mrs. Clifton.

Fragile X Syndrome Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/fragileX

National Fragile X Foundation: fragilex.org

FRAXA Research Foundation: fraxa.org


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