North Country walkers lacing up shoes to fight autism

PLATTSBURGH Its a developmental disorder that robs more than a million Americans from their ability to socially interact, properly communicate and function in everyday society its called autism. As a means locally to combat the disorder, the annual Autism Awareness Walk has been held at the PARC Oval since 2005. The noncompetitive walk has raised nearly $60,000 for autism research and support, benefitting Autism Speaks, a national organization dedicated to finding treatments and a cure for autism, and Nexus, a local social competence program for children with autism spectrum disorders. Even more, said event organizer Laura Carmichael, the event continues to raise awareness of the challenging condition. The walk itself allows for people to get together to learn more about autism, explained Carmichael. Its also a good support system for other people who are either living with autism or living with someone who has autism. Carmichael, whose 6-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2 ?, said support and information that can be received through the walk is important for many faced with a similar situation. When my son was diagnosed, I hadnt really heard about autism at all, admitted Carmichael. The most I knew about it was from the movie Rain Man and that was it, she added, referring to the 1988 Oscar-winning movie, featuring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Carmichael said her son didnt really exhibit any of the hallmark signs of autism, such as being unresponsive to others, avoiding eye contact or self-abusive or repetitive behaviors. It wasnt until his speech development began to regress that attention was brought to his condition. I had no idea what was going on, said Carmichael. Luckily, he had early intervention with a speech therapist who noticed some things that raised red flags. Four years later, Carmichaels son now functions on a level close to other children his age. However, the challenge and the efforts to promote the annual walk are ongoing. I think everybody should come to the walk, said Carmichael. If you havent heard about it, come down and learn about it. And new parents should come to learn more about the early warning signs of autism. It gives you something to do and its for a good cause. The 2008 Autism Awareness Walk will be held at the PARC Oval Sunday, April 20. The event will begin with registration and activities at 10 a.m., followed by the walk at 11 a.m. Hot dogs, hamburgers and refreshments will be served. Information for parents and games will also be included. Other activities will round out the event, including a giant obstacle course and, something new this year, a large sensory tent. The tent will feature a sand table, water table and ball pit designed to stimulate the senses for both children and adults. There is still time to register for the walk and to receive sponsorship forms. Donations and pledges may be made payable to Autism Speaks or Nexus and mailed to Autism Awareness Walk, P.O. Box 1036, Dannemora N.Y. 12929. For more information, visit www.autismawarenesswalk.org. In addition to the Autism Awareness Walk, a separate event that will focus on the challenges of autism will be held Thursday, May 1, at the Comfort Inn on State Route 3. Improving Outcomes for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Conference for Parents and Professionals, will be a discussion offered at no cost by the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, Albany. Pre-registration is required by contacting the center at 442-2574, or through their Web site, www.albany.edu/psy/autism.

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