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Hundreds Walk To Raise Awareness Of Autism

OSWEGO, NY – The annual “Walk for Autism” drew more than 550 people to Leighton Elementary School and the nearby Wilber Field on Saturday afternoon.

Dan Taylor holds his son, Alex, of his shoulders as he poses with his son, Aidan, during Saturday's Walk for Autism.
Dan Taylor holds his son, Alex, of his shoulders as he poses with his son, Aidan, during Saturday's Walk for Autism.

Besides acting as a fundraiser, the event, sponsored by the Oswego County Autism Taskforce, also serves to focus attention on the plight of autism victims in Oswego County, according to OCTAF chair Julie Chetney.

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

Each participant was given a bag of puzzle pieces depending on how long they had signed up to walk. When their puzzle pieces were gone, their walk was finished.

The puzzle pieces are symbolic for autism, Tammy Thompson, OCATF vice chair, pointed out.

A walker drops a jigsaw puzzle piece into a bucket along the track signifying the conclusion of another lap.
A walker drops a jigsaw puzzle piece into a bucket along the track signifying the conclusion of another lap.

“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 explained.

Eleven teams had pre-registered; several more signed in Saturday morning outside the Leighton Elementary School.

“I’d estimate we have well over 500 people in attendance,” Thompson said.

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: Leo Prior’s Tae Kwon Doe America, Oswego County Sheriff’s Department’s Child Safe Program, the Shriners (who served free popcorn), balloon art with Hayley Starr (The Balloon Lady), Air Hop Inflatables, Mayer-Johnson had several pieces of assistive technology available for demonstration, and there were also representatives of county-wide providers of services for folks with developmental delays and disabilities.

Eli Prior makes friends with Molly during the Walk for Autism. Holding the seven-week-old puppy is Debbie Doran.
Eli Prior makes friends with Molly during the Walk for Autism. Holding the seven-week-old puppy is Debbie Doran.

Outside, near the Wilber Track, the band Papa Joe provided the entertainment. Inside the gym, Millennium Entertainment (DJ) kept things upbeat.

Dan Taylor carried his son, Alex, on his shoulders as he made his way around the track.

His other two children, Maddy and Aidan, hurried along in front of him.

Aidan, now 7, was diagnosed with a form of Autism shortly after he was born.

“We wanted to join the cause, kind of say thank you for all the help he has gotten over the years. He’s become self sufficient, is going to school on his own,” Dan Taylor said.

“He has had therapy since he was about two years old. People would come to our house and give him physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy – whatever he needed, they were right there for him,” he continued.

Now Aidan is integrated in the regular school and is “doing awesome,” his father said.

Members of the Pirate team pose for a group photo after completing their laps in the Walk for Autism.
Members of the Pirate team pose for a group photo after completing their laps in the Walk for Autism.

“I credit my wife for being right on top of it. I’m thinking he is a boy, they’re slower sometimes to develop. But she had a nephew who had Autism. She was right on top of things, she got him checked out and started getting the help he needed,” he said.

Aidan got help from several “great therapists,” his father said.

“They came right to our house, sometimes three or four days a week. We became great friends with them,” he said. “It is really a great program, it really helps.”

Taylor works at Novelis. Around 11 years ago, he and a friend started a golf club, “just a bunch of buddies that get together and play a few rounds.”

Last year they changed it over to a fundraiser and now they do it for Autism, he added.

Taylor said he was glad to see so many people at the event Saturday and see that awareness about Autism was growing.

“It’s great that people are starting to recognize the signs of Autism and seek help sooner,” he said. “I think some people are afraid to mention it, to think that someone they love might have it. I talk about it, I’m open with it. I tell people about all the great things that are out there.”

There are a lot more services available locally these days than just a few years ago, he added.

Hannah Iozzio, 8, of Red Creek, creates a whale of a bubble in the play area outside the gates to Wilber Field.
Hannah Iozzio, 8, of Red Creek, creates a whale of a bubble in the play area outside the gates to Wilber Field.

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.”

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.

An inflatable slide was a popular destination for many youngsters inside the gym.
An inflatable slide was a popular destination for many youngsters inside the gym.

There is no single treatment that is best for all children. However, 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.

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 more nominations than last year,” said Theresa Familo. “It was very, very difficult to pick a winner. They won by, I think two votes. This year it is a ‘team’ winner.”

The “Dynamic Duo” of Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss of the Phoenix School District were recognized with the 2010 Friends of Autism Award.

They were unable to attend, so Sue Squires accepted the plaques on their behalf.

They were recognized for going “above and beyond to meet the needs of their students on the Autism spectrum,” Familo said.

In addition to working with the kids, Sandy and Laurie hold a monthly support dinner for the families.

Theresa Familo, right, presents the Friends of Autism award to Sue Squires who accepted on behalf of the winners – Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss of the Phoenix School District.
Theresa Familo, right, presents the Friends of Autism award to Sue Squires who accepted on behalf of the winners – Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss of the Phoenix School District.

According to their nomination: “They are dedicated people who truly care about their kids. They have the right combination of humor, passion and real world advice that their students need. They are role models for everyone in teaching. And no matter what the day is or their circumstances, you can always find them with a smile on their face, humor in their voices and a sense of compassion in their hearts. They make a true difference in their kids’ lives.”

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.

OCATF is a 15-member task force that seeks to enhance the lives of those touched by Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“We are also excited to have offered a Communication Binder training this year. We had three panel discussions, one in Mexico, one in Oswego and one in Central Square,” Thompson said. “The panel consisted of parents, teachers, therapist and teaching assistance. Participants each received a complimentary communication binder and heard about the rewards and challenges in maintaining a communication binder between home and school.”

This year, the Task Force will also offer scholarships to graduating seniors who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder and plan on attending a post secondary educational experience.

For more information about OCATF, go to oswegocountyautism.org