Katie Brophy’s decision to spread autism awareness is one that began at home.

It’s appropriate that she’s continuing to wage it in April — Autism Awareness Month.

The 19 year old University of South Carolina Beaufort sophomore is spearheading the effort by Psi Chi, — the college’s psychology club — to bring awareness of the disorder to campus.

Sitting across from me in a private study room in the USCB library last week, Brophy was quick to open up about the experiences that helped shape who she is and who she hopes to be.

The New York native has already devoted a good portion of her life to helping children afflicted with autism, including her 17-year-old brother, Tommy.

While she wasn’t aware of his condition until she was almost a teenager, growing up with Tommy taught her the patience and understanding necessary to work with autistic children.

She is putting those lessons to work locally.

When not studying for her bachelor’s degree in psychology, she is a line therapist for the new Early Autism Project clinic in Pooler, Ga.

On a typical work day, she uses “play therapy” to build trust with her patients, teaching them socially acceptable behaviors.

She incorporates assisted learning techniques, a specialized treatment that gives autistic children the best chance of living healthy, normal lives. Using applied behavior analysis, she is able to systematically modify behavior that helps them learn the communication skills necessary for social and cognitive development.

“I love working with children, and I love to teach” she said. “Sometimes (my job) is routine, sometimes not. But I like that it’s challenging, and there’s always a new challenge every day.”

“One of the most difficult things about working with autistic children is that they all have different needs, abilities, deficiencies, and quirks,” Brophy said.

The work can be hard.

She often finds herself “physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.”

She doesn’t let that shake her resolve, though.

Working with Psi Chi, Brophy has put up awareness posters and flyers across the campus. Often depicted as a singular blue puzzle piece or a multi-colored puzzle, the symbols for autism awareness reflect that those who suffer from it are a unique, complex, and diverse group of people.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Brophy hopes to get a master’s in special education. She then plans to pursue a PhD in child counseling.

Her overall goal is to be a clinical psychologist for special needs children.

She sees it as a way to lessen the fear about the disorder.

“Oftentimes, people are afraid of autistic kids instead of trying to understand how they think and function,” she said with a smile. “In reality, they are just kids who need a little extra help.”