PLATTSBURGH - It's an event that's been five years in the making. The fifth annual Autism Awareness Walk will be held at the PARC Oval on the city's south side Saturday, Oct. 2. The walk has traditionally been held in April in conjunction with Autism Awareness Month, however difficulties in finding time to organize the event for April was difficult this year, said organizer Laura Carmichael.
"It was a difficult year for my son,
particularly," said Carmichael, whose 8-year-old son has the developmental disorder. "And, we're all volunteers so it's sometimes tough to find time."
The change in the month of the walk this year doesn't mean those behind the event are any less serious, noted Carmichael. Hundreds of hours have gone into planning the walk and other events surrounding it, like a recent yard sale, movie night at Cumberland 12 Cinemas and an upcoming softball tournament.
"We're hoping [the other events] help promote the walk a bit more," said Carmichael, who credited people like Lisa Briscoe and other faithful volunteers for putting on such events.
Briscoe, who organized a yard sale to benefit the walk during the recent Point Au Roche Yard Sales, said she developed a passion for working with children on the autism spectrum through her work as an occupational therapy assistant at Champlain Valley Educational Services. However, autism is something that has also touched her life personally, she said.
"Autism runs in my family," explained Briscoe, "so, I've seen and experienced first hand the difficulties of living with autism."
Though she has volunteered at the Autism Awareness Walk for the past several years, Briscoe said she decided to take a more active role in the event this year by becoming a member of the walk's planning committee and hosting the yard sale. It was simply because she believes in the cause of raising money to help local families struggling with autism.
"The Autism Awareness Walk uses funds raised to promote education by bringing conferences to this area that will help parents, therapists, educators, and pediatricians to become more aware of the early warning signs as well as what they can do to help these special kids," said Briscoe. "Promoting autism awareness is important because research shows that children who receive early intervention are much more apt to keep up with their peers in later years."
Funds raised are also used to promote autism programs such as MVPKids, a sporting league for children on the autism spectrum, and NEXUS, a program overseen by Dr. Patricia Egan at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, which teaches social skills to children on spectrum.
"All the money is staying local," emphasized Carmichael. "We're helping local families with local programs instead of sending money somewhere else."
That's important to Carmichael, who wants to help educate and support others grasping to understand the challenge of autism and autism-related disorders.
"People definitely know much more about it now than they did a few years ago," she said. "There's still a lot that isn't known about autism, but I feel fortunate to have a child with autism in this era rather than back in the day when they didn't know as much about it."
The Oct. 2 Autism Awareness Walk will start with registration and family-friendly activities such as an obstacle course and free horse and carriage rides at 9 a.m. Local musician Benjamin Bright will perform from 9-10 a.m., with the walk to immediately follow.
Refreshments will be served.
"There's always lots of stuff to do," said Carmichael. "We try to make it a little bit bigger and better every year. It should be a fun day."
Registration for the walk may be done in advance on-line at www.autismawarenesswalk.org or the day of the event.
Donations for the Autism Awareness Walk may be sent to P.O. Box 1036, Dannemora N.Y. 12929.
For more information, contact Carmichael at 570-7225 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.