Autism Times Three

From the beginning, life with the Gaston boys has been a loving exercise in controlled chaos.

Two years ago, each of the triplets was diagnosed with autism, a condition that affects an estimated one in every 150 children in the United States.

"Good Morning America" spent the day with the Gastons and spoke to the boys' parents, Lynn and Randy Gaston, about their struggle and never-ending devotion.

"You love them the day before you thought they had autism, and you love them the day they have autism and you're gonna still love them," says Lynn.

Three Times the Surprise

The Gastons spent seven years trying to have children before Lynn finally got pregnant. It was a shock for them to discover their dream of having a baby was multiplied by three.

"When you have no children for so long and all of a sudden you have three, its just like, great -- this is what you wanted," says Randy.

As the triplets, now 6 years old, started to grow the Gastons slowly started to realize their boys were having trouble.

"I noticed that the boys weren't playing together. I noticed they weren't playing appropriately with toys. I noticed Hunter started toe walking. Zachary, he would start covering his ears when any kind of sounds were around. Nicholas started to get withdrawn and go sit in a corner and just stare out the door, where before he was engaging and smiling," says Lynn.

When the boys were diagnosed, the Gastons had already suspected the all three shared the condition.

"Identical twins most of the time will both have autism. The rate of a fraternal twin having autism is zero to 10 percent, whereas for identical twins it is 80 to 90 percent. So that means that genes have a lot to do with it," explained Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a pediatric neurologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

The Gastons try tirelessly to make every little activity into its own tiny therapy session. Playing trains can become a pop quiz, or asking for a soda can turn into a chance to reinforce verbal skills.

One Diagnosis, Three Different Patients

"They really cover the autism spectrum. Zachary is the highest functioning in terms of language and relatedness. Hunter is sort of in the middle of the three, sort of intermediate, and Nicholas has no language. But they are all making progress, Zimmerman said.

There's no clear explanation for why each of the three children show such different symptoms, and that is part of the mystery of autism. Genetics are at work, but some other unknown element comes into play as well.

"It's hard to tell whether there are genetic factors or environmental factors, obstetrical or maternal factors. All these are difficult to sort out," says Zimmerman.

Coping

During the school year the boys see professional therapists, but the bills are staggering.

There's programs and these programs can cost annually, depending on who's paying for it, $70,000 a year," explains Randy. With three children that could mean around $200,000 a year in therapies for the Gastons.

"We sold our house to help pay for therapies," says Lynn. "I mean, I don't know what a parent's supposed to do."

Last April the Gastons organized an "autism expo" to help other overwhelmed parents in their situation. The event included 20 speakers and drew hundreds of parents of children with autism.

"It was so confusing for us that we just felt like I didn't want another parent to feel that way because I felt so lost," says Lynn.

Those feelings still sneak back in, but for now, the Gastons have learned to embrace their new kind of normal. They have no time alone, no dinners out, but they treasure the few quiet moments with their boys to reflect and to dream.

"You want the best thing they could ever possibly get. I mean, of course, I have the highest aspirations for them still," says Randy.

"I haven't given up my dreams for them. I haven't given up that Nicholas will speak. I mean, you can't give up, you just can't," adds Lynn.

To find out more about the Gaston family triplets, visit their website by clicking here: MultipleswithAutism.com

To find out more about the Kennedy Krieger Institute visit their website by clicking here: KennedyKrieger.org

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