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

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

ByABC News via logo
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.