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Nonprofit prepares for Walk for Autism

Victoria Advocate - 3/31/2017

March 31--Parents should be committed to giving their children life skills needed to function in society, but reaching this goal takes much more work when raising a child with a disability.

Having a network of local families going through the same thing can help.

That's what the nonprofit Crossroads Autism Network aims to do while also raising awareness of autism in the community.

"To me, that's the whole purpose of CAN -- letting people know what is out there as far as resources," said Michael Varela.

He and his wife, Kimberly, work with a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, instruction aid through the school district and physicians to help their son, Nicolas.

The family lives in Cuero. Michael is a paramedic and serves in the National Guard, and Kimberly is studying to be a teacher.

Their oldest son was nonverbal until the age of 4 1/2, and after his 6th birthday, he was diagnosed with autism by a pediatric neurologist.

Now 10 years old, Nicolas has made amazing improvements but continues to work on his coordination and pragmatic skills, his parents said.

"With autism it is a never-ending journey as there will always be something that we are striving to improve to make his life better," his mother said.

Saturday, the couple and their three children will participate in the fourth annual Walk for Autism in Victoria.

More than 15 of Nicolas' family members will don matching T-shirts that read "Awesome" in Lego-style letters.

The Team Nicolas T-shirt will go up against about 20 other teams for the shirt design contest.

The Varela family has been involved in the nonprofit since its first walk was organized and has leaned on the network for advice over the years.

Robyn Garza and her husband, Tyson, started the Crossroads Autism Network in 2014. The first walk for autism drew 300 people to Riverside Park.

The event, now at Ethel Lee Tracy Park, will feature safe children's activities and door prizes as well as information booths with local resources.

Those who attend can also take part in the network's new fundraiser of decorating blank puzzle pieces for $5.

"People are getting really creative, and it's turning out really cool," said Paige Weaver, director of the network's board of trustees.

Weaver said funds raised for the organization benefit families with children on the autism spectrum in Victoria and surrounding areas.

CAN has helped fund private swim lessons, riding therapy classes, family nights at Hang Time Trampoline Park and more.

"It's all about supporting these families and bringing awareness," she said. "With awareness brings acceptance."

About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, according to estimates from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

"My advice for parents with a child with autism is to never give up hope," said Kim Varela.

She said to always continue to research, ask for help when you need it and, most importantly, find other parents with a child with autism because having a community that understands your daily struggles of life with autism is a huge blessing.

"They are there when you need support, need to discuss concerns or want to share all the little accomplishments that so many people take for granted," she said.


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