EMMY WINNER: How this child with autism was able to recover with therapy

After undergoing applied behavior analysis therapy as a child, Jake Exkorn is now a student at University of Michigan.
9:08 | 10/07/15

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Transcript for EMMY WINNER: How this child with autism was able to recover with therapy
The two young men you're about to meet were both diagnosed with autism when they were children, and both given early intensive therapy. For over a dozen years we've followed their intimate, at times harrowing stories. And tonight ABC's John donvan is there as one heads off to college after an amazing recovery. But as you'll see, the therapy is far from a magic solution. The other day a teeurinary tract infections, changes in urination, high potassium in the blood, or increases il. Do not® if you have ysis. St op taking and call your doctor right away if you experience symptoms such as rash, swelling, or difficulty breathing or wall Tell your doctor about any medical conditions, medications you are taking, and if you have kidney or liver problems. In usvog in®kana awithfoulre slunya or insulin may increase risk of low blood sugar. It 'S time. Lower your blood sugar with invokana®. Imagine loving your numbers.licked off. Reporter: And then by his second birthday they began to see the telltale signs. Come on, Jake, ready to go? All the kids were playing and laughing and he was supposed to have his birthday cake and I couldn't find him. And I went up and I found him lying face down in the driveway. And at that point we just said all right, there's something wrong with our kid. Turn around. Reporter: These are not the sorts of home movies that a parent ever dreams of making. But they show what Jake's toddler life turned into soon after his diagnosis. The downstairs room at home became a school room for what at the time was a relatively unknown program of therapy called A.B.A., applied behavior analysis. The basic principle you can see at work here. Jake is not capable of waving good-bye, so he is trained into it. Literally rewarded with a favorite food, treat, or a toy or some stickers. Wave bye-bye. Reporter: For repeating even a part of the gesture. So that he'll do it again. Wave bye-bye. We all functioned based on a series of things that happened, behaviors we engage in and reinforcers that happen afterwards. It's the same sequence. It's just a matter of providing a lot more opportunities for children with autism. Turn around. Reporter: Over and over again. More than two years of it. But at the end -- Yay! Reporter: -- On the day Jake and I said so long to each other, this kid was connected again. See you later, alligator. See you later, alligator. Reporter: We checked in with Jake five years later, when he was 9, and now he had real friends. And then just the other day, just before Jake left for college, I went to see him again. Hey. Hey. Hi. Jake. John. You recognize me? You actually remember me? Honestly, no. But I know who you are. Reporter: It's been so long that Jake hardly remembers having autism. My memories are pretty limited. I remember there would be story time. Excellent. I would be read this story, and then I would have to tell them what the story was about. Reporter: And they haven't let go of a certain reminder of how far he's come. This is the chair where Jake was reborn. Even -- Hours and hours and hours and hours in this change learning. Learning how to learn. Reporter: Together we watched a clip from that "Nightline" show. Moon, ball, star. I think that part of our lives was so intense and the therapy was so intensive and we were -- it was like we were living in this snow globe. That the rest of the world didn't exist. I mean, we barely -- I barely left the house during those two years. Reporter: Jake, what do you do with your autism? Is it something that you talk about? Is it something that you don't want to talk about? I don't say hi, I'm Jake, I used to have autism when I was little. But if it comes up, I'm more than happy to tell them about my past. Reporter: Do you have moments anymore where you think back and say it could have turned out very differently? I have moments where I have what I would call gratitude attacks. Reporter: Gratitude attacks. Gratitude attacks, where watching him get his diploma at graduation, it was -- you know, people talk about living beyond their wildest dreams.nager named Jake exhorn completed a rite of passage. I feel good. I'm really excited. Reporter: Leaving home for Co Moving in. Reporter: Why is this remarkable? Because it's what you don't know about Jake's early childhood. What he wrote about himself in his essayo This is my college essay. "Between the ages of 2 and 4 I had autism."s right. Autism. What Jake had when I first met him 15 years ago and introduced his story then like this. This little boy is named Jake. He's being asked to do what for moomes naturally. Kingmaye E contact.he ld C nouottalk. Not follow an instruction. As his mother told us back then. It was like his breaker's just -- like he had them on and they jtus O by one just camily was 15 years ago. In that same "Nightline" report we also met a 10-year-old named Andrew pearls who was also getting A.B.A. Therapy. Did you spell? Reporter: He was making progress for sure. He had learned to ride and to skate. Type. Reporter: But it was clear he was not going to be a Jake story. He was learning to communicate. And he was even speaking a few words. Each one learned painstakingly by his own time in the chair. To his parents, Lisa and Craig, that was where hope came from. People asked that all the time, that oh, looking back was it worth giving up your law practice, moving your house, relocating again? And 90% of the words that he has we taught him. So how much is a word worth? How much is one word worth? Every word is priceless. Excellent. Way to go. Who says that? Who says that? These are our seats. Reporter: We kept up with Andrew also. Watching him go to a basketball game with his family in 2006 when he was 15. Good night air. Reporter: The other day we visited Andrew pearls the man. Want to put it away? Want to go hole punch in. Reporter: A 25-year-old living with a kind autism that rarely gets seen on television because it's so debilitating. Can you fix your shoe for us? Reporter: His parents tell the story. When Andrew was 19 after years of progress things started going wrong. Because now Andrew no longer speaks. His parents are his voice. The pain of the regression for me was worse than the pain of diagnosis. Because at diagnosis there were plans. There was -- there was evidence that people move forward. And I'm not -- you know, maybe for a brief period I thought he'll be a lucky one that recovers. But even when we knew it wasn't that he was still moving forward. Reporter: Today Andrew lives in southern New Jersey in a specialized care giving setting called Bancroft where some 45 other adults have rooms and the staff helps them cope with the details of daily living they cannot handle themselves. All the basic stuff from eating breakfast to wiping clean their own bottoms. It's so hard to admit that you can't do it. Because you can't imagine that anyone will love your child the way you love them. And do it the way that you do it. Reporter: He's also kept occupied here with activities. And supported by a staff that works hard -- Here you go, buddy. Reporter: -- To read the signals he does send out. Hey. Reporter: And to understand who he is. Hi. Hey, buddy. Want to go for a ride in the car? How are you? Reporter: His parents feel certain that he understands them. There are times when Andrew is obviously relaxed and tranquil. But there are also stretches where he strikes himself out of frustration. His mom says at not being able to communicate. That's why his ears are damaged. And why he had to be hospitalized three times in the past year, to rescue his vision after he detached his own retinas. Now he's back on his feet. Some days he wakes up and he is as still as a lake and quiet and happy and can even get a couple more words out. And we look at each other on those days and we I mean, watching him put on his tux and get ready for prom. Reporter: Somebody else dropped by for our union. Oh, my god. You're enormous. Frishe ran Jake's home A.B.A. Team of Hi. Reporter: Today she runs an entire school for autismng A.B.A. Hope is what draws people into it.do they need to be careful about that or should they follow it? I guelow it with some measured caution maybe. But certainly follow it. I mean, I look at the kids that attend my school.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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