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Latest studies show 1 in 59 children lives with autism

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New numbers show 1 in 59 children live with autism. Now, the largest study of its kind is in search of breakthrough treatments, to help families thrive.

As part of Autism Awareness month, Molly Shen looks at the research in this week's Sinclair Cares report.

Five-year-old Kiernan, six-year-old Malachai and 19-year-old Skyler.

Skylar and Kiernan are confirmed to have autism, their brother Malachai is in the process of being diagnosed and is likely also on the spectrum.

Most people with autism spectrum disorder have social, communication, and other challenges.

"It's kind of a bombshell. You know, it blindsides you the first time you hear that. It's, what did I do wrong?," said mother, Kami Denison.

"You always wonder why something like that happens to you," said father, Lance Denison.

They are common questions, but most scientists agree, autism isn't something someone did. The biggest risk factor is in their genes. They hope to learn more through the largest genetic study of autism ever.

It's called SPARK, and researchers are recruiting 50-thousand families across the country. Families simply register online, receive a saliva collection kit in the mail, then use it submit their DNA.

"We're setting the stage for being able to answer these questions of why, and then how do we target treatment, how do we tailor a specific type of intervention to people that have this type of genetic change," said SPARK project investigator, Dr. Jennifer Gertds.

The Denison family is part of the SPARK study. They already know, each of the boys is unique. Keirnan is non-verbal but compassionate. Malachai is curious and energetic. And Skyler?

"I'm kind. And honest. And.. loyalty," said Skyler Denison,

The boys likely have different genetic markers, putting them in different places on the autism spectrum. Researchers want to know more about those differences.

"We wanted to be part of something that would help people in the future. When we found out about our boys, there's no manual that comes with that. You have to find the information," said Kami Denison.

"It seems to carry a lot of promise. And whatever comes of it, whether it's a little or a lot, it's more than we could have done on our own," said Lance Denison,

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The Denison family prominently displays their family pride. And they're willing to share more about their family, down to their DNA, in the hope that science will discover new treatments for autism.

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