'GMA' Anchor Sam Champion Inspired by Sister's Advocacy for Autism Cure

Sam Champions inspiration is his sister Teresa.

Since I was a young boy, I've always looked up to my big sister Teresa.

Most Likely to Succeed, she aced law school, married a naval aviator -- John Quigley -- and next became a mom.

It seemed there was nothing she couldn't do.

Her first child was a girl, my beautiful niece Sydney.

Then, two years later, more family joy when the boy in the family, my nephew James, was born.

But when James was about 1 ½ years old, my sister noticed a sudden change.

"He would just stare. And there would be no response," Teresa Champion told "Good Morning America." "And he stopped responding to his name. It's like somebody flicked the light switch."'

VIDEO: The "GMA" anchor talks about how his sister has motivated him.
Sam Champion Inspired By His Sister

She sometimes felt as through James' condition was her fault.

"I was, like, I should've spent more time working with him, one-on-one, I should've played with him, like I did Sydney. You know, I mean, I should've, I should've, I should've, yeah," she said.

Like any mother, she carried that guilt through numerous trips to the doctors. James was 2 years old when Teresa finally heard the diagnosis that would have crushed any parent.

The doctor said James had moderate to severe autism.

For Teresa, the diagnosis became a challenge.

"I'm like, 'Oh, OK. Autism. All right, great. Now we know what we're going to do, right?'" she recalled.

But there is no cure for autism.

A Mother Digs for Answers

At the time my nephew was born 17 years ago, autism was still a relatively rare diagnosis. He was one in 10,000. Today, more is known about autism spectrum disorder, which now strikes an astronomical 1 in 110 newborns.

Seventeen years ago, so little was known about the condition. My sister put her legal career on hold to dig for answers.

She was sure if she worked hard enough she would find a cure for her little boy.

Many other mothers of autistic children were also devoting their lives to finding answers.

"Teresa and moms like her across the United States whose kids were diagnosed at that time had to pave their own path and find their own way," Carol Schall, an autism expert with the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, said.

CLICK HERE to see Autism Champions Facebook page.

Sister Creates Community Support Group

But they would all be told the same thing: There is no cure and there are very few treatment ideas or programs for children like James.

Years later, as parents with autistic children began to network for solutions, there would be adapted baseball leagues, swim meets -- places where James felt accepted.

Children with autism often have a sharp focus on one area of interest. James' area of interest? Animals.

Teresa enrolled him at Simple Changes, a therapeutic horseback-riding program in Virginia.

Riding horses connected James to the outside world. It was a connection that Teresa wanted for the other autistic children and their parents.

She helped raise money for the struggling nonprofit program James rides in. Those funds allow others take part in the program, too.

"Her purpose was never just to find something for James, but it was to really encourage the whole community of parents and riders, let's build a community and network ... that's going to help them move forward," said Corliss Wallingford, the executive director of Simple Changes.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
null
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...