The rate of children being born with autism is up 30 percent, according to a study released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control. The report found that about 1 in 68 will have autism, up from the previous rate of 1 in 88.
That may be due to increased awareness and better training for pediatricians, according to Kim Thomas, president of the South Carolina Autism Society. Thomas also said doctors are becoming more likely to diagnose milder cases of autism as well.
"In the past, we were missing a lot of people that were high-functioning autism or that had Asperger's, and because of us getting better with the awareness and the testing, we're now getting those people, which I think is why there's an increase in the numbers," Thomas said.
Gabriel McHugh was diagnosed with autism a little more than 19 years ago, when he was 7 years old.
His mom, Kim McHugh, said she was told that at the time, the prevalency rate of autism was 1 in 10,000. She says she's also seen a drastic increase in awareness for autism. Back then, even she had no idea what autism was.
"They said autism, and I was like, ‘Well, what is that?'" Kim McHugh said. "And they gave me a report that was written in English, but I couldn't understand a word of it, because you simply didn't hear the word ‘autism.'"
McHugh also dealt with a lack of awareness in the school district Gabriel was in when he was younger.
"In early adolescence, he developed severe problem behavior," McHugh said. "I had a district that wanted to institutionalize him, which broke my heart as a parent, and that was unacceptable."
Kim McHugh moved Gabriel to Richland County School District 2, and he now has a part-time job at Rosewood Market, where he cooks, cleans and helps with odd jobs around the store.
"Like most of us, he still has his handful of challenges, but he's fairly independent," McHugh said.
He manages his own money and pays his own bills — things Kim McHugh says she never would have dreamt would have been possible when he was first diagnosed.
"It's devastating when you get that diagnosis," McHugh said. "But you have to look past that and just value and love the person. And I can't imagine Gabriel any other way."