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Support on the spectrum

Times West Virginian - 4/5/2018

April 05--Autism Society of West Virginia hosts fundraising walk April 14

CLARKSBURG -- Carol Ford's son was diagnosed with autism before he was 3 years old.

After this diagnosis, Ford said she was at a loss for what to do for her child and his future, and how she could best raise him in a healthy way.

"You go through denial and then you don't know what to do, and then you have to figure out where to go, what therapies do we need," Ford said. "Because unfortunately a couple of us had to do this basically on our own."

Over the years, Ford found she didn't have to do it on her own, finding other parents who had similar stories and experiences, offering her support and advice in her doings.

In time, Ford and these parents would group up for family activities that their kids could enjoy as well, branching out into territories they never thought possible, taking them to "sensory-friendly" movie screenings, bowling and sporting events.

"We do these activities and we've had parents say they wouldn't have even thought of bringing their kids to these events normally," Ford said. "And so they bring their children and try out these different events to see what their kids may like. We gear it to them so they can enjoy an evening with their parents and with other families."

Eventually, this led to the formation of a chapter in the Autism Society of West Virginia, the Corridor Chapter, which now serves seven counties of members with connections to autism.

This allowed for Ford and others who all have personal connections to people on the spectrum to coordinate even larger group events and outings, culminating in an annual Walk for Autism event taking place during April, known as Autism Awareness Month.

"We were wanting to form a group that could help other families with children with autism," Ford said. "We were wanting to get resources available and so we decided we would do a walk."

This year's walk will take place April 14 at Clarksburg City Park in Nutter Fort, where individuals with autism and their families gather with one another to raise money to be given directly to families affected by the condition.

"All the money that is donated to the walk goes right back to the families with autism," Ford said. "Not one dime is spent on administrative costs or club costs, it all goes right back to the kids."

Ford explained how over the years she herself has become acquainted with the condition and the actions of those diagnosed. She spoke of some misconceptions some may have about the condition, commenting that kids and individuals landing on the spectrum are in many ways the same as anyone else.

"The biggest thing with our awareness is just to be tolerant and to be patient with these families," Ford said. "A lot of times our kids are misunderstood in the sense that they're not very bright and have behavior issues, but once we're patient and we're understanding and you get to know them, our kids are very compassionate."

"They're very loving, they try so hard, they just have the biggest hearts in the whole world," Ford added. "They want to be loved and they want to have a friend, they just have issues trying to get there."

Ford explained that compassion and patience are the most important values to keep in mind when working with an individual with autism.

"Some of our kids have very high IQs, some of them are middle of the road and some of them do not talk," Ford said. "You can't go through the front door, you have to go out back around and underneath before you can get in."

She recalled her son's developmental years during which he had several special appointments and educational obligations which would be stressful but necessary.

"It's a lot," Ford said. "It's a lot of stress and you have to have a lot of patience. We go through a lot as far as the gamut of what some people don't realize is not just autism."

But going through all this with her own son has brought her and her family to efforts they would never have been involved in if not for him.

"(He) has taught us a lot," Ford said, speaking of her son, now 20 years old. "We've learned compassion and he's brought a lot of attributes with himself. He's really, really good on the computer and he loves to draw. He's an amazing artist."

The sensory-friendly Walk for Autism takes place at 10 a.m.April 14 at Clarksburg Park in Nutter Fort. For more information on the Corridor Chapter or the walk, visit the group's Facebook page.

Email Eddie Trizzino at and follow him on Twitter at @eddietimeswv.


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