TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) — New numbers from the CDC show about one in 59 children in the U.S. live with Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s up 15% from an estimate four years ago, which put that number at one in 68.

Autism emerges early in childhood and can cause lifelong challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication.

At an autism summit in Topeka on Friday, early intervention was a big focus. Parents, relatives, caregivers, and educators attended the Easterseals Capper Foundation’s Autism Summit.

More: Easterseals programs for people with autism spectrum disorder

People like Leia Holley, whose son was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of two.

“We were told to put him in an institution, he’d never talk, never have eye contact, never be a functioning member of our family,” she recalled.

She called the diagnosis isolating.

“I was that mom you would go to the grocery store, and you’d see my kid laying on the floor kicking and screaming,” she recounted. “Parents are sitting there going why can’t you control your kid, discipline him, when it wasn’t me it was autism.”

Through the years, she’s learned first-hand the difference early intervention can make. She says he now has some language skills and can tell you what he wants and needs.

“He can tell you he wants to go to Burger King. He tells me ‘I love you.’ He tells me ‘Sweet Dreams’,” she says.

Medical experts aren’t sure if autism numbers are actually increasing or if detection efforts have improved, but Holley says people with autism can live a full life, especially with support.

“He is now 25. He has two jobs. He was his brother’s best man at his wedding in front of 250 people, and so it’s possible, but it is a lot of work,” she said.

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