When her son Caiden was diagnosed with autism, Bridget Soots had two choices.
“I could have made a decision to just curl up and cry and be in denial, or make a difference,” Soots recalled Monday. “I decided to do something about this,” she said of the problems facing autistic children and families. “I decided to spread the word wherever I go.”
Caiden Soots is now 8 and his mother is still trying to raise awareness of the condition that affects him and about 600,000 others who’ve been diagnosed with autism. This will include the second-annual Autism Walk of Surry on April 20 at Riverside Park in Mount Airy, which Bridget Soots is chairing.
Every 20 minutes a child is diagnosed with autism, a disorder that includes a group of developmental disabilities that affect the brain’s normal function. It tends to surface in the first three years of life and impacts communication, social interaction and behavior.
Autism now affects one in 90 children and one in 70 boys. “There are more and more diagnosed every day,” said Soots.
She added that proceeds from the walk in April — which is Autism Awareness Month — will go to the Surry County chapter of the Autism Society of North Carolina, which works to directly improve the lives of individuals and families affected by autism.
“As of right now, we have raised $9,000,” Soots said Monday. The ultimate goal is $15,000, which would exceed the total from the first walk last year of more than $13,000. “We had over 500 people there,” Soots said.
“We’ve got a lot of extra stuff going on this year and hopefully we’ll have some extra walkers.”
Appeal To Sponsors
To support the effort, community members, particularly those involved with businesses, can make contributions as sponsors and/or lead walk teams for their companies.
Donations can be made at four different levels, from $250 to $2,000, and in return sponsors have their names or logos placed on a banner for the walk and on event T-shirts. Other amenities are offered, depending on the level of support, including corporate table space during the walk.
Sponsorships are due by next Monday.
Registration will begin at 8 a.m. on April 20, with the walk itself starting after kickoff activities at 9 a.m. from near the picnic shelter at the Riverside Park playground. Walkers will use the Ararat River Greenway.
An area television personality is scheduled to attend the event, which also will feature a Zumba session after the 9 a.m. kickoff with Michelle Davis of Move 2 Melt Studio.
Information about the walk, as well as sponsorships/donations, is available from Bridget Soots at 789-2982 or Lisa Jeffreys, 789-9639.
Help For Families
The contributions for the April event will aid, in various ways, individuals and families in Surry County who are affected by autism.
Having a child with autism can cost more than $1 million, according to Soots, who was instrumental in the formation of a local support group for the disorder six years ago.
“I personally spent $20,000 my first year,” said Soots, who explained that her son’s condition has required a number of costly therapeutic services.
Pointing out that the local chapter has 33 members, a survey among them found that parents’ greatest need was education-related, Soots said. “They wanted to have teachers to be able to teach their children.”
The money raised from walks goes toward providing educational tools to help children reach the next step in their development and succeed in life, along with training classes for teachers and parents in dealing with autistic youths.
It also funds programs for families who have just received the diagnosis, and provides respite care to those needing a break.
“These families have nowhere to turn but…our Surry County support group,” Soots emphasized. “Our group provides help and resources for these families that are priceless.”
No cure has been found for autism, but with individualized treatment, education and support, children and adults can improve and develop skills that will allow them to live and participate in the community, experts say.
Soots is aware of how the economy has affected the level of charitable outreach for such causes as autism support, which is among numerous efforts to help people in need.
“But nothing affects as many of our friends and family who suffer from this fast-growing, terrible disorder,” she commented regarding the upcoming walk.
“Our goal is to make a difference.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.