The Importance of Finding Your Autism Community
It’s the last day of Autism Awareness month this year, most people have already stopped having the conversation since April, 3rd. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset with any though, that’s because most of the major organizations that should be promoting awareness push Autism Awareness Day instead of the entire month. For families like mines though Autism doesn’t take a break, it doesn’t go away, there are no breaks and for us awareness is something we need to have 365 days of the year.
When our son was diagnosed with Autism after his third birthday our whole world was turned upside down. We were thrown into an arena we had no experience in handling and it all seemed overwhelming. We didn’t know where to turn or who to talk to and at times I felt like I was drowning. The worst thing with any situation is for someone to give you some basic information about something life changing and then leaving you to figure it out all on your own.
My husband and I were in different spaces with dealing with the diagnosis, and whether we were ready to deal with it or not it was here and it wasn’t going anywhere. Those first few weeks went by and slowly anxiety started to set in for me. Our three-year old was starting Pre-School as a part of his early intervention program, he’d have to take the school bus all by himself, and I was constantly worried about the process. I needed an outlet and I found my Baltimore Autism Parenting Group.
It was in that group I learned about Pathfinders for Autism. Someone posted a link to the site to sign up for their free family sailing event and I quickly jumped at the opportunity. Thanks to Pathfinders my son was able to go sailing in the Baltimore Harbor with his father last summer and it was completely free. We’ve attended other events with Pathfinders, that were also completely free and the whole family was included, like our recent visit to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. This organization and their website helped me learn so much about the process of navigation Autism. I have used it to find LISS funding forms, to find doctors and other critical information I couldn’t find other places.
If it wasn’t for Pathfinders for Autism I wouldn’t have been able to find out about the process of applying for SSI, and even helping my sister with her application and making sure she filled out the correct paperwork. My most life altering experience was participating in the Run Wild for Autism Family Fun Run last September. That’s when I found my community, that’s when I started to feel like maybe I could handle this, that we weren’t alone on a lonely island with no one around to help.
I’d never seen so many families coming together to support their loved one with Autism. Our team was small, just our family, and a very close family friend. It was our very first time participating in anything like this and Pathfinders for Autism was generous to waive out registration in exchange for me posting about the event and sharing my thoughts. It really has taken me months to know what to say and write about being there that cold September morning.
We were tired, we had spent the previous day walking around Hersheypark all day, and didn’t get home until late the night before the race. I woke up first to start getting everyone ready, after getting myself dressed, I woke our two older kids, then my husband, our youngest, and finally JB. We usually keep JB for last because once he’s dressed we have to leave out the door. On top of being tired it looked like it was going to rain, there were even a few drops of drizzle but we arrived at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore ready to go.
I looked around the section we were entering the zoo from and saw countless people with signs, custom t-shirts, and so much more to cheer on their family members. That’s when I felt like I met my people. No one gave us weird looks when JB screeched with excitement. They barely batted an eye when he got upset about walking past the animals, and when we stopped to take photographs no one got upset when we were taking long to get JB to cooperate.
Since we participated in the fun run, we were on a different path than the runners who were doing the 5 K race. They entered the zoo first followed by the families participating in the fun run. We slowly walked the route, taking in some of the views since most of the animals were asleep. We stopped for some pictures and my husband even saw two of his students and their families at the zoo.
My best experience came when we saw a whole family with special Autism Awareness handkerchiefs/bandannas we asked them about where we could find them. The father called his sister up close to us and asked her where we could find them, she told us. He asked do we have extras and they took the last two they had and handed them to us and wished us well. We were so thankful for their generosity that day. It touched me at the bottom of my heart because I wasn’t expecting them to do that at all.
After the race we gathered with other families and enjoyed all kids of goodies from race sponsors, and the kids even had a chance to meet Poe, the Baltimore Ravens mascot. We still rock out Run Wild for Autism t-shirts all the time and we continue to attend events with Pathfinders for Autism. I always recommend their website to other families who were in the position I was in when I first started looking for a community of people and information to help us find what works for our son.
Registration is now open for the 6th Annual Run Wild for Autism 5k Run & 1 Mile Fun Run and Walk, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The race is scheduled for September 25th, 2016.
RACE INFORMATION & REGISTRATION
Advance Registration (closes September 22nd)
$15 Youth (13 to 17)
Children 12 and under FREE
EVENT SCHEDULE, FEATURES, & FAQs
7:00-8:15am Registration (outside Main Gate)
8:30am Race (8:30 5K, 8:45 Fun Run & Walk)
9:00-11:00am Post-Race Activities at Waterfowl Pavilion
Zoo Gates Open at 10:00am
– 5K Run through the Maryland Zoo and Druid Hill Park
– 1 Mile Fun Run & Walk through the Maryland Zoo
– Professionally Managed Race by Charm City Run
– Post-race awards ceremony
– Games, activities, Animal Ambassadors, and more
– Give-away items
– Post-race snacks
– PLUS SPECIAL RACE DAY ZOO ADMISSION: individuals registered for the race will be able to access the Zoo free of charge on race day. Zoo passes may be picked up on Race Day at check-in.