Children's Hospital Colorado is participating in the nation's largest autism study and is hoping Colorado families will join in the research.
The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative is funding the SPARK study to increase the understanding of the condition and research the genes that may play a role in autism.
Georgeann Doyna's 7-year-old son Griffin has autism.
"The diagnosis was devastating. Absolutely devastating," she said.
She learned her son had the developmental disorder when he was just a year and a half old. Since then, the family has depended on a combination of behavioral therapy and patience.
"For instance, my child did not say 'I love you' until he was 4 years old," Doyna said.
When Griffin called her 'mom' for the first time, she broke down and cried. She wasn't sure she would ever hear those words.
The cause of autism is still mysterious.
"There isn't one cause and a lot of times we really don't have one specific reason to tell a family what has caused the autism," Dr. Sandra Friedman with Children's Hospital Colorado said.
Friedman is hoping that will change through SPARK, the nation's largest autism research study that will gather medical and behavioral information, family history and DNA from 50,000 families across the U.S.
"It's the fastest growing developmental disability right now," she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 68 children in the United States has autism spectrum disorder.
Doyna along with her husband and son decided to join the SPARK study.
"Autism is like an onion. As soon as they pull back a layer of it, there are 10 other layers they didn't realize played a role," she said.
Along with behavioral and medical information, the study collects saliva samples from each family member. A saliva collection kit is mailed to the participants' homes. The kit includes a tube for spitting or an absorbent swab can be used for children or anyone unable to spit.
"It really can't get much easier," Doyna said.
The samples are stored in a secure laboratory and DNA will be analyzed. Participants have the option of knowing the results of the DNA test.
Doyna knows answers might not come right away, but one day could help Griffin and other children.
"I can rest easier as a parent knowing that something I did today could affect his life 30 years from now. And that's what I hope to get out of it," she said.
The SPARK research study is open to adults and children who have been professionally (through a physician or psychologist) or educationally (through a school) diagnosed with autism.
For more information or to join, visit www.SPARKforAutism.org/JFKPartners.
You may also email questions to SPARK@ucdenver.edu.