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Teenage Girl Creates 'Autism Ball' After 7 Cousins Diagnosed With Disorder

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A special gala will be held Tuesday night in Garden City for children challenged with autism.

CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported 17-year-old Kathleen Griffith started the "Autism Ball" after seven of her cousins were diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder.

"It has definitely affected my life a lot, but the way that I see it is they are a gift and they bring something special, each and every one of them," Kathleen said.

Kathleen decided during a family reunion to do something special to help her cousins.

A class project at the Garden City Middle School about the toll autism takes on families piqued the curiosity of classmates and teachers, and soon students approached local merchants who got on board with Kathleen's cause.

"We walked through town and asked stores if they wanted to donate," Kathleen said.

The "Autism Ball" has now been going on for five years as donations and fundraising help group homes in Nassau County, to Camp Anchor in Lido Beach, and to special needs programs throughout the village.

"People struggle with all different disabilities and problems and for me to make an impact on someone else's life," Kathleen said.

The impact on Kathleen's cousin, Peter Griffith, is dramatic, as the family is part of medical research.

"We have been tested for gene mutations and they have not been consistent throughout the families," Suzanne Griffith McAndrews, Peter's mother, said. "In our family, we are clearly predisposed to something – something that is triggering it in the environment."

The "Autism Ball" kicks off at the Garden City Casino Thursday night for 200 seventh-graders.

When Kathleen goes off to college, siblings, cousins and the middle school will continue the tradition of the "Autism Ball."

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