On a brisk and bright morning, thousands of families and supporters for autism research participated in today's walk at Orchard Beach for Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism, and to advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. People from across the borough gathered into various teams, designated in support for a family member or friend of someone whose child has autism.
"This year's event is so much more organized," stated Arlene Rios, supporting 'Team Jacob'. "Last year, when all five boroughs walked together at Citi Field, it was a mess. There was not enough room for people to walk. I wasn't sure how much support there was going to be, now that each borough holds their own event, but I'm glad it went well. This year is so much smoother than last year." Carmen Acosta, the leader for Team Jacob and Jacob's mother, agreed. "This is fun to see people participating and supporting a good cause," she commented, as she and over 10,000 people walked around Orchard Beach and the surrounding parkland. This was also evident by the various signs, banners, t-shirts and costumes worn by many of the participants, who advocated for their child, for a cure, and for autism awareness. This year's Bronx walk raised over $136,000, with the top team, "Faith, Hope, Love" raising $7,680. Deanna D'Ariano, of team "Faith, Hope, Love", was the top individual fundraiser, raising $4,000 for the event.
From the Autism Speaks website, the "Walk Now for Autism Speaks" event is deigned to be a, "fun-filled, family friendly event and is our single most powerful force to fund vital research that will lead us to the answers we need." Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disorder in the U.S. – with 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
On a personal note, my son Joshua is also autistic. In the beginning, I didn't know how to deal with his condition. I remember telling myself back in 2002-03 that maybe it was a temporary condition, or that a cure could be found soon. I also went through the gambit of finding something to blame for his condition, some external factor to soothe my own mind. As he got older (he's 17 now), I have found acceptance for his condition, but that doesn't mean I don't continue to fight for him. One thing I learned from this walk and from other events that I have participated in, I don't have to fight alone.
While today I marched with Team Jacob, who has always supported my son in the past, I also marched for Team Joshua today.To all the parents of autistic children who haven't received or don't know about the support that's out there, please know that you are not alone. And more importantly, you autistic child may be different, but is not 'less than' other children. Seek out a support group. Fight for his/her education. Know that whatever some people may think, there are many more that love you and child. Take a chance and get to know them. And maybe, I'll see you at next year's walk.