Walk shines a light on autism

On Wednesday, homes around the world are encouraged to shine a light on autism and to “light it up blue” for World Autism Awareness Day.

In the North Okanagan, members of the community are encouraged to wear blue and take part in the first Autism Awareness Walk and BBQ April 6 at Polson Park, to be the voice for people with autism.

Co-hosted by the Okanagan Boys and Girls Clubs, Stepping Stones Counselling Group, North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society, the Children and Youth with Special Needs branch of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and NONA Child Development Centre, the event is a chance for families to come out and enjoy a day in the park while at the same time raising awareness about autism.

Susan Heighway is autism scheduler at NONA, while Erin Hutton works with the centre’s autism over-13 program.

“It’s all about raising awareness,” said Heighway. “That it’s out there and to be accepting of it, and to bring families together, to meet.”

And each April 2, Autism Speaks celebrates Light It Up Blue along with the international autism community, in commemoration of the United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day. Light It Up Blue is a global initiative that kicks-off Autism Awareness Month and helps raise awareness about autism. People around the world are encouraged to light up their homes by switching their outdoor lights to blue, putting up blue Christmas lights or anything else they’d like to do. To register your “blue”  idea, go to

Hutton said autism is one of the most common forms of brain neurological disorder or development disability in childhood, and its prevalence is on the rise.

“It affects people in different ways and there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding it,” she said. “Some people assume that certain behaviours in school for instance are because the child is ‘bad’ or that they are being rude when they can’t help it. People tend to just make a really black and white comment.”

While the supports for children with autism are excellent, there are simply not enough of them.

“Our wait list keeps getting longer,” said Heighway, adding that it currently sits at more than a year for children under six.

Hutton said for children with autism, simply navigating through the day can be difficult, as they often lack the ability to pick up on those social cues most people take for granted.

“It’s difficult to read body language and know how to interact and that is something that service providers in the community help provide — those skills, such as eye contact and tracking other people’s eyes or simply saying hello.”

They are hoping that this week’s events will go a long way towards helping to increase awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

On Wednesday, World Autism Awareness Day, a free viewing of the film, Temple Grandin, will be shown at 6 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club. Refreshments will be provided.

The award-winning film stars Clare Danes who plays the title character who overcame the odds by earning a doctorate and becoming a bestselling author and a pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock. Grandin was diagnosed with autism at the age of four by a doctor who told her she’d never talk and would need to be institutionalized.

“If you haven’t seen the movie, it is worth the watch,” said Rebecca Kerr, autism services program supervisor at NONA. “It’s based on a true story and it really gives you an idea of what it’s like for a person with autism.”

On the same day, Ya Yas is donating their large party room at a reduced cost from 10 a.m. to noon, to allow parents to give their children a break during their afternoon of climbing and playing at the indoor play centre.

“We’ll have cards available for the families to get in at a reduced cost,” said Heighway, adding that the cards will be available at the walk’s sponsors.

The first Autism Awareness Walk and BBQ takes place April 6 at Polson Park from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., near the band shell. Participants are encouraged to wear blue and take a leisurely walk around the park and then enjoy live music from Vernon musician Brandon Schmor, balloons, Shriners clowns and the Vernon Lions Club’s popular barbecued burgers, by donation. Johnston Automotive has donated the bottled water and helium for the balloons.

The event runs rain or shine and please note that dogs are not permitted in Polson Park.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art.

Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between two and three years of age.

— from Autism Speaks, founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. The autism science and advocacy organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.


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