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SPARK: Maine families participating in largest autism study ever conducted

Maine families are participating in the largest autism study ever conducted across the country.

NORTH WATERBORO (WGME) -- Maine families are participating in the largest autism study ever conducted across the country.

Kaylee Lurvey was diagnosed with at three-years-old, shortly after she stopped talking.

Now 10 going on 11, she uses an iPad to communicate at home and school, but still struggles with sensory issues and some simple tasks.

"It was only a few years ago she was actually able to start putting on her own socks and her shoes," said her mom, Candy Lurvey.

Lurvey would like some answers.

"Right now there's not a whole lot of information about what causes autism, which is why I'm so big for the research aspect," she said.

The family hosts its own annual event to raise money for research, but they're also participating in SPARK, a national autism research project.

"The goal is to collect 50,000 individuals with autism and their biological parents," said Dr. Matthew Siegel, the principal investigator and director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Maine Behavioral Health and the Maine Medical Research Institute are partnering to serve as the clinical site in Northern New England, for Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Siegel said a small DNA sample from participants will help identify the genes linked to autism to better understand it.

"The more we understand and are specific, the more we can tailor our treatments and help and support," said Siegel.

Siegel said they're starting in Maine. About 70 people have already signed up, and he said they need at least 200 each year for the next two to three years.

"That person with autism can be any age, any gender, any location," he said.

And it can all be done from home.

"We've already done our sample," said Lurvey.

Results are years away, but the Lurveys hope it will shed new light on autism that could make a difference for kids like Kaylee.

"We'd love to have Kaylee's little voice back," she said.

Spiegel said people can sign up by logging onto or calling 207-661-7620.