Once thought to be extremely rare, diagnoses of autism have been skyrocketing since the 1970s, with reports of a 556 percent increase between 1991 and 1997 alone. Some experts argue the increase is due to better diagnostics and improved access to services, but others aren't so sure that these alone account for such an astonishing increase.

Over time, clinicians, including those at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development, began to discover more and more children with autism who, despite having social and language deficits and exhibiting idiosyncratic behaviors like spinning, hand flapping and finger flicking, actually had average and above-average IQs. Children with an autism spectrum disorder, it turns out, are in a class by themselves.

Once scientists realized that, more and more of them began working together to decipher the brain architecture unique to people with autism. Consequently, they are spawning a revolution in new treatments and interventions. Many children are now moving from the lower-functioning to the higher-functioning end of the spectrum and, in some cases, are making enough progress to "leave" the autism spectrum altogether. These children bear the torch of hope for others.