By Melissa Garcia

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.”

autism artist 2 Colorado Lawmakers Push To Declare Autism An Epidemic


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.

autism artist 1 Colorado Lawmakers Push To Declare Autism An Epidemic


“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.

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to

Comments (12)
  1. BS ! Autism is not a tragedy !!! Neurodiversity is important for all of us.

  2. Linda Rosa says:

    Autism an “epidemic”? Actually improved criteria for diagnosing the autism spectrum have misled some people to believe the rate of autism has increased. It hasn’t.

    It is a concern that this bill may have many supporters who do not support vaccination. And we certainly don’t want to see more nonsense like Facilitated Communication and quack therapies for autistic children.

    In any case, this is not a matter for the legislature or a committee hand-picked by legislators. This is what we pay the CDC for.

  3. It’s about time that the government starts to take this epidemic seriously. Hopefully, with legislation, there will be hope for the families of autistic children who will never be independent, and who are terrified of what will happen to their children when the parents pass away and the children are left alone.

  4. Pylae Ludus says:

    1. Where are these great services for 20,000 people that ASCo promotes, when there is no line item in the state health budget for autism? ASCo Completely out of touch with the magnitude of the epidemic. It’s a $500 million problem that your annual pub crawls can’t solve. 2. ‘Never been a better time to… have autism.’ Very dismissive of the lifelong burden and highly insensitive towards disability. Please resign. 3. This story does not depict the reality of autism in any factual way. See the DSM criteria. Severely life limiting impairments in three areas evident in early childhood.

  5. Michael West says:

    There are now 10s of thousands of detailed reports from parents who report exactly the same sequence of events. Their formerly healthy children regressed into autism following vaccination. Before you assume that these are all coincidence, just listen to this one account from the parents of 3 formerly healthy tripplets and tell me if you think that can be coincidence.

  6. Pylae Ludus says:

    There’s an epidemic of children who are non verbal and in diapers as adults, and have no prospects for jobs or spouses, but you could not find one child as representative of the real problem? Hmmm…..”all you need is a paintbrush” for a $500 million dollar problem of 20,000 people needing a lifetime of assisted living? CBS Denver fail. This story takes the irresponsible tone of celebrating autism (Dran), AND ignoring their needs (paintbrush). Please don’t offer “art” as the solution to parents in this very burdensome situation.

  7. Autism is a tragedy for many families and individuals who cannot speak or survive by themselves. In states where they actually count autism (like California) there is no denying the significant increase in the prevalence of this disorder. While we have some resources in Colorado, they usually fall short in providing a basic quality of life for families and especially adults. We need to accurately account for the prevalence of this disorder in Colorado and ensure services meet the needs of this population. Most of our Special Needs services/policies were developed in the 90’s and need to be updated to reflect the fact that autism is now the most prevalent developmental disability.

  8. Aluminum is a causal factor of the Autism Epidemic and the Alzheimer’s Epidemic.

  9. Autism costs:

    2015 1% of GDP
    2025 Predicted annual costs of up to 5% of GDP – $1 Trillion.
    2035 Up to 20% of GDP?

    Autism rates growth in the United States:

    1 in 10000 children 1970
    1 in 1000 children 1995
    1 in 500 1999
    1 in 150 2000
    1 in 125 2004
    1 in 110 2006
    1 in 88 2008
    1 in 68 2014
    1 in 30 2018
    1 in 15 2022
    1 in 8 2026
    1in 4 2030

    Autism is not caused by genes alone. There needs to be an environmental trigger to cause it. If we do not identify the trigger we will have a huge number of disabled children and adults soon.. We are not just getting better diagnosing it.

  10. The reality of Autism:

    85% Adults unemployed
    65% have Intellectual Disability (IQ < 70)
    30% have Epilepsy
    Average life expectancy 36 years

    Do you really believe a paintbrush will be enough?

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