Family's Struggle: All Six Kids Are Autistic

Each of the Kirtons' children has a different type of autism.

ByABC News via logo
February 5, 2008, 3:38 PM

Feb. 5, 2008— -- Autism is a difficult diagnosis for any parent. For Robin and John Kirton, it's difficulty times six.

Each of their six children suffers from a different form of the disorder, which affects an estimated one in 150 American children. It's an incredibly rare occurrence that, experts say, points to something in the genes.

Studies have shown that if one child has autism, the chance of the next sibling having it is only about 15 percent.

"They've rolled the dice six times and have a child each time with autism. That's really uncommon," explains Dr. Gary Goldstein of the Kennedy Krieger Institute for pediatric research and treatment.

After reading about the Kirton's inspiring story in People magazine, "Good Morning America" decided to visit the Utah family to find out just how they cope.

"We worry about them, where they're going to be 10, 20 years in the future," says John. Together, he and Robin navigate the diverse world of autism, and deal with each child's individual condition.

Shy and Awkward

Bobby, the oldest at 14, has Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism that his teachers started noticing in the 5th grade.

"He just would not speak up. If he wasn't sure about something, he just wouldn't ask. He was like a fly on the wall, and would just sit back and not do things ... we didn't know any better, we just thought he was quiet," explains John.

With the help of his school, Bobby has been able to thrive, academically, but is often lost when it comes to social and behavioral skills, shying away from other kids on the playground, unsure of how to make friends.

"He doesn't engage in back and forth conversations with people. It's mainly one-sided on his side, whatever interests him mainly," says John.

Anxiety, Tantrums, Meltdowns

The next oldest children, 9-year-old Emma and 8-year-old Nephi, have more severe Aspergers.

Unlike their older brother, they are prone to anxiety, temper tantrums and extreme fixations with a specific object.

The Kirton family has started a Web site, for parents of autistic children. Learn more about the family at