Thousands expected for autism walk

Part of the more than 2,000 participants in last year’s Walk for Autism in Mount Airy traverse the Ararat River Greenway.

At a time when a child is diagnosed with autism on average every 20 minutes, local residents aren’t taking this lying down but preparing to hit the trail for an event scheduled Saturday.

The seventh-annual Surry Walk for Autism shows that while it is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the United States, so are fundraising and awareness efforts to combat autism locally.

“I know that 2,200 people have signed up,” 2018 Autism Walk Director Bridget Soots said Monday.

It will be held Saturday at Riverside Park in Mount Airy, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. and the awareness walk on the nearby Ararat River Greenway at 9 a.m., along with Zumba sessions.

The event sponsored by the Surry County Chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina is held in conjunction with April being Autism Awareness Month. “Love Completes the Puzzle” is this year’s theme, which refers to the longtime symbol for autism — a puzzle piece denoting how autistic people suffer from a perplexing condition.

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects their ability to understand what they see, hear and otherwise sense. It is a brain disorder that impacts communication, social interaction and behavior. No two people are affected the same, with a cure for autism unavailable at present.

However, with individualized treatment, education and support, children and adults can improve and develop skills that allow them to function in the community.

Making a difference

Coupled with the awareness and show of unity at Saturday’s walk, especially among families with children diagnosed as autistic, is a fundraising component that organizers say involves all money generated staying in Surry County to help alleviate the problem.

The funds mainly have been used to provide resources and support in local schools to better deal with autistic students.

This includes educational workshops and one-on-one training for teachers in Surry County, along with training for parents, respite care to families and help for those in need for medical reasons. A summer camp also is envisioned this year for local autistic individuals.

“Last year, our goal was $45,000 and we raised $50,000 and this year our goal is $50,000,” Soots said, which reflects the hope of a similar excess for 2018.

Support is coming through two main ways, making a contribution as a sponsor and/or leading a walk team at one’s company.

“Most of them are individual families that get up a team for their diagnosed child,” Soots explained of those participating, with names such as “Team Luke” or “Team Drew.”

Local businesses also form teams, including a new one sponsored by Walgreens which is doing much to aid the cause, with the director further citing a Lowe’s hardware group.

The sales of T-shirts are a key part of the fundraising effort for the walk along with sponsorship proceeds.

More than 80 sponsors have come on board this year, according to Soots, who has an autistic son, Caiden, 13.

Local Girl Scouts also will aid autism efforts Saturday by selling food items donated by Panera Bread Co., with the money generated to go toward the overall event proceeds. This will include bagels, muffins and more.

In addition to the team efforts, the walk is open to individuals who may show up Saturday and lend their support.

“We have some people,” Soots said, “who come and pay $10 just to participate in the walk.” She can be reached at 336-401-7105 by anyone with questions.

A resource fair geared toward those affected by autism also will be part of Saturday’s activities.

Part of the more than 2,000 participants in last year’s Walk for Autism in Mount Airy traverse the Ararat River Greenway.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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