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Community gathers to support those with Autism

The Blade - 9/8/2019

Sep. 8--Brittany Mason said she had no negative reaction this past May when she found out her 2-year-old son has autism.

Rather, Mrs. Mason and her family continued living life with their happy and loving 2-year-old, Isaac Mason -- all with a little extra care, the mother said during the Toledo Autism Speaks Walk at the Huntington Center on Sunday.

Children got their face painted; took photos with a prince, princesses, and Starwars characters; or built wooden airplanes prior to the third annual walk's kickoff, where nearly 500 walkers participated, said Leslie Bloom, manager of field development for Autism Speaks Northwest Ohio.

"The walk is a really great place for people to have a safe space -- there's people surrounding that understand that their child is having a meltdown or is shouting -- they understand that they're in a safe space and they're not going to be judged. They can feel comfortable here," Ms. Bloom said, adding families are able to learn about community resources and connect with other families, too.

Mrs. Mason, who lives outside of Detroit, said she knew Toledo had a large gathering for an autism walk and decided to join.

Gathering in matching shirts, the Mason family wore gray T-shirts with the Superman symbol embedded with colorful puzzle pieces -- which has become an iconic marker for autism.

Mrs. Mason said she noticed several red flags prior to her son's diagnosis, but she "very in support of it and jumped on the bandwagon" of getting him into the proper behavior and speech therapies.

"You think that autistic kids have no feelings, no emotions -- he's one of the most loving, caring, little boys. So emotional. He will just hug me and love me," Mrs. Mason said as he picked her son up.

Alia Lopez watched her daughter, Kalie Maran, 2, paint a picture prior to the walk. Family came to support and walk for Mason Porchia, 4.

"It's something that's not talked about a lot and you see all the struggles that they have, being accepted. He's really important to us and brightens our life -- he's probably one of the happiest kids I've met," Ms. Lopez said.

Ms. Bloom said individuals on the autism spectrum are no different from anyone else -- they just want to be treated the same.

"They're still kids and they're still adults, some of them need different resources and different supports than others, but all in all they want to be treated like everybody else. They still want to make friends, they still want to be able to work, go to college, or whatever else is going to fit into their journey," Ms. Bloom said. "We're working really hard to make sure they have that opportunity and we're building that awareness with companies."

The organization's goal was to raise more than $63,000 and as of Sunday morning, they were nearly halfway to that number -- not including donations that came in on Sunday. That money may be used through grants for those who need it in the community, Ms. Bloom said.

Anyone who wishes to volunteer for next year's walk can email Ms. Bloom at leslie.bloom@autismspeaks.org.

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(c)2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

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