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Hundreds Walk To Raise Awareness Of Autism

OSWEGO, NY – The annual “Walk for Autism” drew about 500 people to Leighton Elementary School and the nearby Wilber Field on Saturday afternoon.

Kevin Comfort Jr. drops a puzzle piece in the bucket as Team Jacquelynn completes another lap. Looking on at left is his sister, Jacquelynn.
Kevin Comfort Jr. drops a puzzle piece in the bucket as Team Jacquelynn completes another lap. Looking on at left is his sister, Jacquelynn.

Besides acting as a fundraiser, the event, sponsored by the Oswego County Autism Taskforce, also focused attention on the plight of Autism victims in Oswego County, according to OCTAF president Theresa Familo.

As the walkers paraded around the track, they dropped jigsaw puzzle pieces into a bucket at the end of each lap.

The puzzle pieces are symbolic for Autism, explained Tammy Thompson, the director of programs for children with special needs for Oswego County (and vice president of the taskforce).

“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.

From left is Theresa Familo, president of the OCATF; Julie Chetney, past member of the task force and newest recipient of the "Friends of Autism Award" to promote awareness and understanding of Autism; and Tammy Thompson, vice president of the OCATF.
From left is Theresa Familo, president of the OCATF; Julie Chetney, past member of the task force and newest recipient of the "Friends of Autism Award" to promote awareness and understanding of Autism; and Tammy Thompson, vice president of the OCATF.

Familo and Thompson estimated close to 500 people turned out on the sunny, albeit chilly, day.

The number is comparable with the 2011 event, they added.

At any given time, hundreds of people were walking around the track with “another 100 or more inside the gym,” Thompson said.

Official sponsors of the walk included 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, Arise, balloon art with Hayley Starr (The Balloon Lady), Air Hop Inflatables, and many others.

A girl places her hand print and signature with several others at the anti-bullying booth alongside the track.
A girl places her hand print and signature with several others at the anti-bullying booth alongside the track.

There were also representatives of county-wide providers of services for folks with developmental delays and disabilities.

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.

Shannon Penrod, left, made it a point to visit with her friend Karen Delaney during her visit to the Port City.
Shannon Penrod, left, made it a point to visit with her friend Karen Delaney during her trip to the Port City.

Shannon Penrod, currently a resident of LA, hosts two shows on Autism. She was in the Port City on Saturday to visit some friends and check out the Autism event.

She hosts a radio program as well as a live web show.

The very first phone call she got on her show was from Karen Delaney of Oswego.

“She called in and said, ‘Well, I am listening to your show and I am from a part of the country you are familiar with, Oswego.’ She kind of had a negative comment … But we ended up on the show with my guest, making friends,” she said.

“By the time the show was over, the two of us were friends on Facebook and we have been talking back and forth the last three years,” Delaney noted.

Youngsters could enjoy a trip down an inflatable slide inside the Leighton gym.
Youngsters could enjoy a trip down an inflatable slide inside the Leighton gym.

Penrod sent her a note saying she was going to be at the college Friday for the drama fest and Delaney replied inviting her to come to the walk on Saturday.

“I was a student at (SUNY) Oswego and then I came back and taught there for a few years,”
Penrod said, adding that she had been walking around the campus the previous day and recalled just how cool the weather can be here.

She moved to LA and had a child; and the child was diagnosed with Autism, “So, my whole world changed to the Autism world,” she told Oswego County Today.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1 in 88 children will be diagnosed with Autism and almost 1 in 54 boys – and those numbers are three years old,” she said. “So, in all likelihood, the numbers are worse than that. It’s devastating.”

The windy weather made it a great time to take a break from walking and make some really huge bubbles.
The windy weather made it a great time to take a break from walking and make some really huge bubbles.

“Autism Live” is the name of her web show. “Everyday Autism Miracles” is her radio show.

“The web show is three hours live. It’s all information, we interview experts and people have the ability to call in or write in in live time and ask questions,” she explained. “We’re in all 50 states and 83 countries.”

The week before coming to Oswego, she had been at Walk Los Angeles for Autism. More than 35,000 people took part.

“But, to come here and see this; I cried, I cried because this is so amazing to see the exact same thing only on a smaller scale,” Penrod said. “It’s still parents and the kids trying to find the answer as to why (Autism) is happening and raise some money to help the cause.”

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.

The Lycoming Sunday School team poses for a photo before heading out onto the track.
The Lycoming Sunday School team poses for a photo before heading out onto the track.

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
Medication
Complementary and Alternative Medicine

The key is early identification of ASD.

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.

A karate demonstration was one of the other activities outside on Saturday.
A karate demonstration was one of the other activities outside on Saturday.

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.

There were hundreds of people walking on the track at any given time Saturday. Hundreds more were inside the Leighton gym.
There were hundreds of people walking on the track at any given time Saturday. Hundreds more were inside the Leighton gym.

“This year’s recipient is somebody who is one of the founding members of the Autism taskforce. She was there when it first started,” Familo said. “She doesn’t really like to take credit for too much – Julie Chetney!”

Chetney admitted to being surprised by the honor.

“There are a lot of more deserving people,” she said. “I started doing this because I have a child with autism. I just thought it’d be nice if we could do something to help the kids.”

Chetney added that she was humbled by the recognition.

“I have some pretty amazing people that I’ve been lucky to work side by side with over the years that deserve this same recognition,” she said.

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. The 2011 honoree was Vicki Affinati of Arise.

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.