Chicago family views autism diagnosis as a chance to educate, pay-it-forward

Family helps Generation Rescue raise funds to educate and spread awareness about autism

Michele and Pete Doyle with their two daughters, Kiera, 9, and Caelan, 11.

By Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy


Michele Doyle is a glass-half-full kind of mom. Husband Pete is a glass-half-empty kind of dad.

But when it comes to their daughters Kiera, 9, and Caelan, 11, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 5, they have put their halves together to fight autism.

Six years ago, at a time when many people's only frame of reference for autism still was "Rain Man," the Doyles threw a party for family and friends to educate them about autism and raise money for other families trying to do the best they can with a disease that now affects 1 in 50 kids. They knew only too well about the looks parents with children with autism get and the struggle to pay for treatments.

By year three, that party, Rescue Our Angels, became the largest non-corporate fundraiser for Generation Rescue, of which Evergreen Park native and actress Jenny McCarthy is the president. This year, the sold-out party raised $200,000.

"We were like the little engine that could," Pete says. "It was almost like a pay-it-forward. We're going through our journey and our journey is going pretty good, but there are a lot of people who are struggling, so let's try to raise some money and help people."

He credits Michele with the success of the fundraiser and in their personal autism fight. They consider Caelan recovered.

Caelan was born three years after they married. "Everything was fine. We were trying to be the best parents we could be," Michele says. Around 16 or 18 months, Caelan stopped talking. Though she started early intervention at 2, the family didn't have a diagnosis. That came years later.

"I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason," Pete says. "I think for us as a family, it certainly was devastating initially, but I think through the process and through the years, it has opened us up. One is the compassion for any type of child or any human being who has any type of special needs."

Helping Caelan recover became a full-time job, even though both parents work full-time and are raising Kiera. They took away gluten and casein and the family now eats organic meats, fruits and vegetables. They also did chelation after tests showed Caelan's body was full of metals.

"It's been long and challenging and rewarding all together. For myself, it puts the world in a different perspective," Michele says. "You look at life differently and you enjoy the little moments."

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