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

Teresa Champion's determination prompted by son's autism diagnosis.

May 16, 2010, 8:50 PM

May 17, 2010— -- 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."'

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.

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.

Putting people together and fundraising may be one of my sister's best talents. She found strength in a support group when she first heard James' diagnosis. Now, she runs one out of her own home.

"I found this group about six or seven years ago and it has become a lifeline for me," June Adelsberger, the mother of an autistic child, said.

Another parent seconded the sentiment.

"We always have to, amongst each other, get the message out there, that they are just a little bit different," Scott Campbell said.

Patty Ratliffe finds understanding.

"Some of the things that our kids do, you don't necessarily want to go to the other neighborhood moms because they can't relate," she said.

But, for my sister, support isn't enough. She wants change, so she lobbies the Virginia State Capitol for more autism programs.

As James grows older, she grows more concerned. What will happen to aging autistic children and their parents? Where will James go when he turns 21, and ages out of school programs?

Sister Is 'GMA' Anchor's Inspiration

James is not alone. His is a dilemma facing an estimated 730,000 people who are under campbell and autistic.

Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, has been a great ally of Teresa's.

She has sponsored legislation on behalf of Virginia's autistic population.

My sister realizes that her advocacy will help many people.

"If I can do that and help other families, that's the whole point of this," she said. "So someone else does not have to go through what I've gone through."

Once again, my sister is on the frontlines. She's committed to her crusade -- not only for her own family, but for the families of the 26,000 children now being born each year with autism.

My sister Teresa is my true inspiration. I think she can change the world.

Here are links to autism resources Web sites:

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events