OSWEGO, NY – The annual “Walk for Autism” drew about 500 people to Leighton Elementary School and the nearby Wilber Field on Saturday afternoon.
Besides acting as a fundraiser, the event, sponsored by the Oswego County Autism Taskforce, also focused attention on the plight of people living with autism in Oswego County, according to chair Theresa Familo.
As the walkers paraded around the track, they collected jigsaw puzzle pieces at the end of each lap.
The pieces could later be redeemed for raffle tickets inside the gym.
The puzzle pieces are symbolic for autism, explained Tammy Thompson, the director of programs for children with special needs for Oswego County.
“It’s because autism is such a puzzle right now. It’s not a specific thing – it’s the autism spectrum. So, we’re counting laps with our puzzle pieces,” she said.
Several teams had pre-registered; even more signed in Saturday morning at Leighton Elementary School.
“I’d estimate we have close to 500 people here today,” Thompson said. “It is a beautiful day for a walk. We’ve been blessed with nice weather each year.”
At any given time there were more than 200 people walking around the track, with “another good 100 or more inside the gym,” Familo added. “People have been coming and going all over. This is a great turnout. And, the sun it out! I prayed all day yesterday that it wouldn’t rain anymore.”
The official sponsors of this year’s walk include, ARC of Oswego County, Little Lukes, Pemberton Associates and the Oswego County Health Department.
Vendors included: Oswego County Sheriff’s Department’s Child Safe Program, balloon art with Hayley Starr (The Balloon Lady), Air Hop Inflatables, Skippy’s Ice Cream and there were also representatives of county-wide providers of services for folks with developmental delays and disabilities.
Oswego County Legislator Jake Mulcahey was taking part in the event with his family.
“I’m glad to see so many people here,” he said. “Awareness about Autism is growing.”
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
People with ASDs handle information in their brain differently than other people.
“ASDs are ‘spectrum disorders.’ That means ASDs affect each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. But there are differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms,” Thompson explained. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate that 1 in 110 children will be diagnosed with Autism and almost 1 in 70 boys. There are an estimated 1.5 million Americans living with Autism and approximately 60,000 New York residents living with Autism.”
“I don’t know all about what Autism is or what causes it. But I do know what it is like to have Autism,” said 11-year-old Arlo Olson. “Autism affects everyone differently.”
ASDs begin before the age of 3 and last throughout a person’s life, although symptoms may improve over time.
Some children with an ASD show hints of future problems within the first few months of life. In others, symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later.
Some children with an ASD seem to develop normally until around 18 to 24 months of age and then they stop gaining new skills, or they lose the skills they once had.
“One of the kids in my grade at Minetto (elementary school) has it so bad, he needs his own helper,” Arlo pointed out. “But some of the other kids with Autism aren’t completely at that point yet. Sometimes, it is hard to tell the difference between Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.”
Within a year or two, Asperger’s Syndrome will be listed as part of the Autism Spectrum.
Asperger’s Syndrome looks very much like a high functioning person with Autism, Arlo’s mother, Dinah said.
“They have similar charastics,” she said. “Probably around 2013 they will have one Autism Spectrum that includes Asperger’s.”
“I read in a book that Asperger’s can sometimes cause a person to be smarter than the average person their age. They could have trouble speaking, a stutter for instance, or nervousness, something like that,” Arlo continued.
Sometimes, it can be mistaken for dyslexia, he said.
“There is no single treatment that is best for all children; and there isn’t really a cure because you’re born with it. It’s like a condition,” the articulate fifth grader explained. “It’s not like some disease that you catch, like the common cold. Well, in a way it might be like the common cold because it might kind of mellow out a little bit as you get older.”
Medical professional say that well planned, structured teaching of specific skills is important. The different types of treatment can generally be broken down into the following:
- Behavior and Communication Approaches
- Dietary Approaches
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The key is early identification of ASD.
“From my experience, I’d have to say many people treat people with Asperger’s and Autism differently. Some kids get bullied. Then there are people who treat you really, really nice like you’re terribly sick.”
Arlo said he is doing well in his classes. However, he admits that sometimes, while taking tests, sounds like “the skritch-scratch of pencils makes it hard for me to concentrate, and I get distracted.”
There are many services available to Oswego County residents.
For children from birth to 3 years of age, the Early Intervention Program can help a family through the process of diagnosis and treatment.
The Early Intervention Program offers a variety of services included, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupation Therapy, Special Instruction and other home and community based services that help both the child and family.
As a child approaches the age of 3, the Early Intervention Program will help the family through the transition to the preschool special education program that is available through your local school district.
The preschool special education program focus how the child’s developmental delay or disability affects them educationally and begins to prepare the child for school aged services.
The key to any effective program is communication between parents and the providers or educators.
Many providers of these services had tables at Saturday’s event and distributed information to the large crowd inside the gym.
The Task Force also presented its “Friend of Autism” award on Saturday.
“We had a lot of nominations this year,” Familo said. “In fact, our winner was actually nominated eight separate times!”
In 2009, the inaugural “Friend of Autism” award was presented to Linda Stummer for all she has done to help families of children with autism. In 2010 it was presented to Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss of the Phoenix School District.
This year’s honoree was Vicki Affinati of Arise.
“Vicki really does go out of her way to help kids,” Familo said.
“I run a social group for teenagers. This was a total shock to me,” Affinati said.
OCATF is a 15-member task force that seeks to enhance the lives of those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorders.
For more information about OCATF, go to oswegocountyautism.org or call 349-3510.