COLUMBIA (WACH) -- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of schoolchildren in the United States being diagnosed with autism is steadily climbing.
The Doudoukjian brothers, now teens, were diagnosed with the disorder when they were toddlers.
"We originally thought that John was deaf, because he didn't talk," said Katherine Doudoukjian of her oldest son, now 15. "He didn't turn his head when you clapped your hands."
She says misunderstandings are nothing new to her family.
"Many people look at an autistic child and say they're just a behavior problem -- they just need a spanking -- I've heard somebody tell me that too, and I quickly told them, 'If spanking cured autism, they would have been cured a long time ago, 'cause I found out real quick it didn't work,'" said Doudoukjian with a laugh. "It's a neurological disability, and many people don't understand that."
Autism is a brain development disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication skills and repetitive behavior. Most people with autism are within the same IQ range as the average person.
"It's a social awkwardness -- and then the whole being able to communicate," said Kim Thomas with the SC Autism Society.
The CDC released figures showing autism cases have increased by nearly 80 percent since 2002. Thomas says that doesn't necessarily mean there are more people with autism.
"I think it's just that people are getting better at recognizing the symptoms, and testing has gotten so much better that we're picking up the cases now that did fall through the cracks," said Thomas.