By Ron Matz

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The prevalence of autism is growing in the United States. It now affects one of every 68 children.

Ron Matz reports some of the most important research into the social disability is being done right here in Baltimore.

Zeke is two and a half years old. Six months ago he was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

“It started when he was 18 months old and we were concerned with speech delays. We have a good friend who is a nurse practitioner in developmental pediatrics. She spent the weekend with us just to visit. During that weekend she was able to observe him and see him in his natural setting. By the end of the weekend she sat us down and said ‘I think you are dealing with an autism diagnosis,’” said Jess Onheiser, Zeke’s mother.

“It was a lot of reading, a lot of shock, a lot of tears,” said Joe Onheiser, Zeke’s father. “We got started right away with whatever we could do to start the treatment and early intervention.”

Zeke’s parents enrolled him in a special program at the Center for Autism at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

“Zeke is in a classroom based setting (at Kennedy Krieger), which we feel is the best option. He gets one-on-one treatment in class, but he’s also able to work on his socialization skills, which is a big part of the disability,” said Jess Onheiser, Zeke’s mom.

Autism Center director Dr. Rebecca Landa says early intervention is the best approach.

“We know autism affects one in 68 individuals, and if you have a child with autism you have a one in five chance of having another child on the spectrum,” Landa said.

The Onheisers say Zeke’s potential is already being unlocked.

“He’s happy. He runs around. You’d never know. A lot of people wouldn’t know. He’s come a long way in just a few months,” Joe Onheiser said.

On Sunday, the ROAR for Autism will be held at Oregon Ridge Park. The event raises funds for autism research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

“We use the money from  ROAR to do pilot studies and buy equipment. This is the only fundraiser we have for autism research here at Kennedy Krieger. The amount of work we got done with the funding that comes in is amazing,” Landa said.

And as part of WJZ‘s Continuing Community Commitment, WJZ is a sponsor of the Kennedy Krieger Institute ROAR for Autism.

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