DENVER (CBS4) – Some state lawmakers want to declare autism an epidemic in Colorado.
House Bill 1223 would pave the way for more research and funding.
Legislators sponsoring the bill said that Colorado has seen a 41,729 percent rise in autism since the first diagnosis in 1992.
Geno Maes, a Colorado native, did not know that he had the disorder until well into adulthood.
"Yes I can speak, I can talk," Maes told CBS4's Melissa Garcia. "But when somebody doesn't want to help, I get furious. And I clam up and just want to walk away."
Geno Maes, 45, is on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum. He suffers from sensitivity to sound and light, anger, and social anxiety, to name a few of his challenges.
The Air Force veteran went through seven psychiatric hospital stays, a divorce, and addiction to pain pills before finally being diagnosed with autism at the age of 35.
"It was a weight off my shoulders in a sense, but it was in a sense throwing me out into the deep end of the pool," Maes explained of his late diagnosis. "Being diagnosed late in life, there's not a lot of support… without that, we become in a sense recluse or afraid to function in society."
Now Maes has found ways to cope with the disorder. One big way is through his brush strokes on canvas.
"I feel like I'm painting my mind. And you have to walk into it," Maes told CBS4 photographer Eric Blumer.
Art is also how Maes hopes to help others who are struggling with autism. His goal is to put the lines, curves and splatters in his abstract paintings up on gallery walls.
"Sometimes, all you have to give a person is a paintbrush, some paint, and a canvas. And in one way or another, an inspiration that, 'I'm not going to give up anymore,'" he said.
An estimated 2 million people across the United States have been diagnosed with autism. And the number is growing due to more advanced testing methods, experts said.
"There has never been a better time to be a person with autism," said Kathryn Dran, board chair for the Autism Society of Colorado. She said the non-profit helps connect autism sufferers with resources that were not available in the past. "There are support groups, there are resources, there are employment opportunities that have never existed before," Dran said.
"Don't give up," Maes said. "There is a light on the horizon."
World Autism Day is on Monday April 2, 2018. April is World Autism Month.
The hearing on 1223 is expected to take place at the state Capitol building sometime in April before the end of the legislative session.
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