GREENVILLE - Greenville Elementary School became a center of awareness and support Sunday morning for Autism Connection of Greene County’s fifth annual Autism Awareness Walk.
About 200 walkers donned the multi-colored puzzle ribbon of autism awareness and walked the short route from the elementary school along Routes 32 and 81 to the high school and back to the elementary school to raise awareness of the disorder and show support for friends and family who are living with it.
The event usually raises about $5,000 to support the programs of ACGC, according to Founder and President CarolAnn Luccio. Their programs currently include a summer club, sibling support group, and adult program and their next goal is to start an after-school program. Luccio said the first year was not intended to be a fundraiser, but generous community members insisted on donating about $4,000 anyway. From then on, ACGC made the fundraising more official through a walker sponsorship system.
The event is also, and maybe more importantly, an invitation for families affected by autism to meet, socialize, and find information and support.
“Families that have children with autism tend to feel isolated, because it is hard to get out,” said Luccio. “A lot of times, it’s easier for families to just hibernate. So this is a great time for them to come out and feel supported by their community.”
April is the national Autism Society’s Autism Awareness Month, a time to call attention to the one in 88 children in the United States affected with autism, according to their website. Autism is known as a spectrum disorder— parents at Sunday’s walk often referred to those affected as “on the spectrum”— that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It’s defined by a certain set of behaviors, but varies from person to person, and has no known cause.
Luccio, who has a 13-year-old daughter with autism, said she and others founded ACGC after tiring of traveling to Albany, Schenectady or Kingston for any kind of support services. Sunday’s walk also included a small informational fair inside the school with tables set up for early intervention services, a nutritionist, dentists who are experienced with autistic patients, therapy services, and so on.
“We’re such a spread-out county that it’s really hard for people to know what’s out there to help them,” said Luccio.
This was the first year the walk was held at the school, and Luccio said she hopes to hold it there again in following years.
“This is where we learn tolerance, this is where we learn patience, this is where we learn compassion,” she said in her opening remarks. “So I’m very excited to be here at the school.”
New York State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk, who represents the 46th Senate District that includes Greene County, joined the walkers to show her support. Tkaczyk’s 14-year-old son has an autism spectrum disorder, as do two of her nephews, she said. She also sits on the Senate Committee of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders.
“I know how important it is to raise awareness so that people understand other kids and the challenges they face, and that with support people can have very productive and great futures, especially when we get early intervention services in place and help families,” she said. “I saw how much it’s meant to my family.”
Luccio said the event came together thanks to the help of many volunteers, including several local Girl Scouts troops.
“This is not a one-person show,” she said. “We all make a difference here.”
To reach reporter Kyle Adams, call 518-943-2100, ext. 3323, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org