According to Autism Speaks, a new study done by The National Health Survey Interview suggests that the that Autism affects one in every 45 children between the ages of three to 17-years-old, rather than the official one in 68 that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guesstimates.

For Sydney Copher of Middletown, signs of autism began to show when she was just 2 years old.

“Her progress halted, and she began going backwards,” said Brooke Copher, Syndey’s mother. “She had started talking, then at about two, she stopped. She stopped responding to her name. She stopped making eye contact with us.”

Brooke said the setback caused the family to resort to using pictures and sign language to communicate with Sydney, who is now in seventh grade at Alfred G. Waters Middle School. While dealing with the condition has been difficult, Brooke said watching the progress her daughter has made over the years has given her unmeasurable joy.

“Now she can communicate and talk,” Brooke said. “We can go out and she can order for herself. She can tell us is something is too much, so that we can go out to family functions, even if we may not stay the entire time. She’s reading at a fifth-grade level, and she’s doing math. She’s made so much progress.”

Part of that progress can be attributed to Sydney’s older brother, Harrison, who also attends Alfred G. Waters, a grade ahead of his sister. According to his mother, Harrison has not only been hugely supportive of his sister, but he has been raising awareness about autism in a variety of ways.

Like his mother, Harrison is overwhelmed by the support his sister has received.

“I’ve been a big advocate for my sister for as long as I can remember,” Harrison said. “In my own way, I kind of feel like a second dad to her. Since our dad left I just felt like I had to step up even more and be there for her, even during the times she may not want me to.”

Starting the 50-state challenge

Earlier this month, which happens to be Autism Awareness month, Harrison had the idea to put together a “50-State Autism Challenge” to raise awareness for his sister’s Autism Walk team, Syndey’s Super Squad. The results of the challenge left Harrison and his mother overwhelmed, as they received an outpouring support from not only every state, but other countries as well.

“I put Harrison’s challenge out on my Facebook and blogged about it, and people began spreading the word,” Brooke said. “We received pictures from people on mountains, in front of monuments, holding signs of support. It was amazing, because these were from complete strangers, people we didn’t even know, showing their support.”

The most elusive state, to their surprise, was New Mexico.

“We got Hawaii. We got Alaska, but we just couldn’t seem to get New Mexico,” Brooke said. “We began calling senators. We asked others for help, and in the end, we ended getting about five pictures from New Mexico.”

After pictures from all 50 states were received, Harrison put them in a video to the tune of “Life Is a Highway,” “I’m Coming Up,” “Walking on Sunshine” and “Just the Way You Are.”

At the end of the video, Harrison gives his thanks to everyone who sent their support.

“We got all the states, and I don’t know what to say,” Harrison said. “I myself didn’t expect so many people to care about it, and the fact that everyone came and supported my sister with autism, it makes me really happy.”

Some of the locations surprised him.

“I didn’t even know about the photos from other countries until I went back and looked at the video,” Harrison said. “I honestly can say I never expected this.”

Ready for a global challenge

Next year, Harrison and his mother are planning to do the challenge again, this time with the hopes of making it a global challenge. However, they are having a hard time coming up with ideas on how to give the challenge a global spin. Considering the situation, they ask the public to submit their ideas.

To submit ideas on how to help make Harrison’s autism challenge global, email Brooke Copher at Brooke.Copher@appo.k12.de.us.