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Always Aware: April is National Autism Awareness Month

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 07 2014 07:04:00 AM CDT

Always Aware Aspergers

Autism rates climbed nearly 30% between 2008 and 2010, and have more than doubled since the turn of the century, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The condition is now believed to affect one of every 68 children.

The autism spectrum is large, including people who have Asperger's syndrome.

April is National Autism Awareness Month and 69 News wants you to be always aware.

16-year-old Caitlyn Cavanagh has a pretty good idea of what she wants to study in college.

"I want to go into the field of Psychology," she explained. "I find the human mind very fascinating."

It's an interest that has a very personal meaning to Caitlyn.

"She was 4 maybe, around 4 years of age when we noticed she didn't keep eye contact," recalled her father John.

After years of seeing numerous doctors, Caitlyn was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome when she was 12 years old. It's on the Autism spectrum, but people with the disorder have less severe symptoms and no language or cognitive delays.

"I don't have an understanding of coping with social situations as most people are able to," Caitlyn shared.

"She's able to do everything that everybody else does," said John. "She's always spoke her mind."

But it was getting the right help that's allowed Caitlyn to flourish. Therapist Dr. Ann Hetzel says it takes a little leg work to find the best services for people diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.

"One of the most helpful things that these kiddos can do is go to therapy, learn who they are, it's not a bad thing, and learn more about communication because that's one of their deficits, that's one thing that they're really having a hard time doing."

The condition affects everyone differently, some people are very mild while others have severe symptoms.

"Simply because they receive or their child receives a diagnosis it doesn't mean it's the end of the world," Hetzel added.

Something the Cavanagh family knows firsthand. They hope people become more aware of autism as rates of the disorder soar, and maybe that will lead to a better understanding and more empathy toward families dealing with autism spectrum disorders.