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Groups promote autism awareness at annual walk Saturday

Times West Virginian - 4/15/2018

April 15--NUTTER FORT -- The sixth annual Walk for Autism took place Saturday in Clarksburg City Park, and hundreds turned out in support.

It was the perfect day to spread the awareness and furthermore the acceptance of the condition of autism that the proponents of the walk advocate for.

"No. 1, we want to spread autism awareness and acceptance," Lea Robinson, president of the Corridor Chapter of the Autism Society of West Virginia, said at the walk. "We want to be able to provide information for families that are affected by autism."

Robinson's chapter is able to accomplish this goal by organizing the annual Walk for Autism, which she considered a success this year thanks to the large turnout and participation. The walk raised money through donations and raffles to be given directly to those affected by autism.

"We have one fundraiser a year, and this is it," Robinson said. "We service seven counties with donations from friends and the community, and we never have any of our families pay for anything."

Aside from the walk itself and the sensory-friendly activities like the bounce houses, the event hosted several organizations which were dedicated to helping those with disabilities.

"Our booths and people that are here, there's a wide variety," Robinson said. "Every year we get more and more participants that want to set up and share their information."

Some of these included the Harrison County Parent/Educator Resource Center (PERC), which aims to keep parents of children with disabilities in close communication with their schools to maximize educational potential.

"We work with families of children with disabilities and try to help them and the school have better communication," Melody Waybright, a representative from Harrison County's PERC, said.

Some had stories behind their involvement, such as Dan Burns, who wants to find a way for his 17-year-old son to make his way in the world.

"We were going through life with him and we found out he was autistic at the age of 2, when we noticed something," Burns said. "When a special needs child reaches a certain age in life there could be nothing out there for them."

Burns explained that his organization, the Homestead Farm Center, is a potential place for individuals with disabilities like autism to stay and find a living and assistance from one another. He hopes to utilize the family farm where those with disabilities can live and work in a healthy environment.

"We had to decide something in life because my wife and I are getting older and we need somebody to care for him instead of just putting him into a home," Burns said. "It's for people with special needs, disabilities for people to come and accomplish something in life and give them a sense of accomplishment and achievement."

Other families and groups turned out in support with a team of their own, including student organizations from Fairmont State University. The groups, Leadership, Education and Advocacy for Disabilities, and Autism individualize Mentoring and Support Services, both help students with disabilities on campus.

"AIMSS is a program which helps get students with autism with their education," Julie Reneau, faculty adviser for LEAD and director of the AIMSS program, said at the walk. "They're here with a group called LEAD which is an advocacy group for disabilities."

With participation from each of these groups and more, Robinson said the message of acceptance has never been more exuberated at any of the past walks.

"I think we reached pretty close to 500 people today," Robinson said. "It is a wonderful opportunity to get information out to families and for the community to unite and spread autism acceptance."

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

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(c)2018 the Times West Virginian (Fairmont, W. Va.)

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