Annual 'walk' at Oaks Park builds autism awareness, understanding
Hundreds of Oregon residents gathered at Oaks Amusement Park on Sunday, April 24, to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Autism Society of Oregon's "Autism Walk". The half-mile Walk is held yearly — typically in support of Autism Acceptance Month. This year's walk was a return to normal for the society, after having had their previous two walks modified due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is really the first time since 2019 that we've had the community really coming together again, after all this isolation from the pandemic," remarked Tobi Rates, Executive Director of the organization.
Last year, the society held the event in August, and saw a down-tick in registration as a result of the high summer temperatures, and the virus. In 2020, they were forced to hold the event only virtually. The annual Autism Walk is the society's largest fundraiser and community event of the year — and this year, it raised $50,000, all of which will go to supporting programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
A major focus of the day was to create a social outlet for those living with autism. Dozens of vendors shared community resources and information for those who were trying to understand the disorder — and for families looking for ways for their autistic child to expand their social circle.
Local Boy Scout Aiden Mochroi used the Walk to become an Eagle Scout in Troop 117. He lives with autism, and he spent more than 200 hours creating a questionnaire game and resource guide to promote education about service dogs. He explained to THE BEE that autism is unique to each individual, and he was hoping to educate folks on how service dogs can help some of those on the autism spectrum.
According to the National Autism Association, autism affects one in every 44 children. It is also considered the fastest growing disorder in the United States — yet the most underfunded.
"I've been involved with autism for 18 years now, that's as long as my kids have been diagnosed. The changes of the past two decades have been enormous," reflected Tobi Rates. "Autism awareness was really important in the early days, because autism at one point was a very unusual diagnosis."
While no longer unusual it is still often misunderstood. Symptoms vary from person to person — including, but not limited to, sensitivity to light, speech impediments, repetitive motor functions, and difficulty making or holding eye contact. No two people dealing with autism are alike in their symptoms. The disorder is treatable, but early detection is critical.
"In my experience, people who are on the autism spectrum or who experience autism are some of the most magical, talented, smart, and gifted humans in general," said camp consultant Elise Renning. "I've been coming to this walk for several years and it continues to grow, grow, and grow. Watching the community come together and offer this genuine support is outstanding!"
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