World Autism Day: Raising awareness about a growing disorder

The new numbers are staggering. A study from the Centers for Disease Control shows that more children are being diagnosed with autism and no one knows what's causing it. The study says one out of every 88 children will be diagnosed with some form of the developmental disorder. That's up 23 percent over the CDC's 2009 report.

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, aimed at drawing attention to autism and how to help those who have it. One Grand Strand group was among those raising awareness of the disorder that affects language, behavior and social skills.

Advocates with SOS Healthcare, a Grand Strand non-profit clinic, set up an information booth in Murrells Inlet Monday, to tell the public what's being done locally to help those with autism.

Trey Waters was among those at the booth. He's a senior at St. James High School, who enjoys softball and working with computers. Trey also has autism, but he wants people to know the disorder does not define him.

"Yeah, I can live with it. It's my life," Trey said.

SOS Executive Director Sarah Pope knows more about the challenges of autism than most people. Her two autistic sons, Ben, 17, and Liem, 10, have been working with therapists for years to gradually move up the stepping block to productive lives.

"We break down everything into tiny increments of learning, use high reinforcement and we teach them all of the things that they would need to know to change their behavior, their social skills and their language," Pope said.

Because of Trey Waters, brother Dillon Waters was inspired to become a therapist and work with other autistic children. Dillon said it is challenging work, because it may take years of effort to see progress in a child.

"You think, oh, he's non verbal, he'll never be verbal," Dillon Waters said. "But when you think about 5 years, 10 years, you got to think about small increments, where will he be in the future."

Dillon said the sky's the limit for Trey. That may include a career working in graphic design.

For his part, Trey Waters has a message for the rest of us about how we should treat those with autism.

"We do not mean to act differently or act out with tantrums and stuff. They experience life differently. Please accept them and love them," he said.

A Grand Strand foundation is looking to start a local charter school for autistic children and provide other services for adults.

But Pope said money is a big issue and funding right now is tight.

For more on how you can help SOS Healthcare and their Building Futures Autism Clinic, visit them on Facebook.