A lot has changed since 2012, when the first Walk the Walk for Autism was held in Pictou County.
“Our first walk of 2012 saw 112 walkers supporting this little-known group of families,” said Colin Wood, an executive board member of Autism Pictou County, speaking to a large crowd gathered at G.R. Saunders Elementary School in Stellarton on June 22 for the 8th annual walk. “Jump ahead seven years and nearly 500 people have registered for today’s event.”
About $70,000 was raised this year, the second highest amount raised at an autism walk in Nova Scotia, just shy of what was raised in Halifax.
Allison Kearley has been involved with organizing these walks in Pictou County from the beginning. Her daughter Jessica, who has autism, is now 14.
One of the biggest differences she’s noticed is how aware people have become of autism.
“When we started out first year we had to explain what autism was,” she said. “That doesn’t happen very often now. It’s more people trying to figure out where they fit on the spectrum, or what are your child’s challenges versus what is autism. I think that’s really big.”
She said the walk is also a huge encouragement to families with a child with autism to see the support within the county.
“I think this kind of gives families energy when they’re having a really bad day with their special person with autism,” she said. “You come here and you see how much support you have.”
Money raised from the event helps with many programs that are offered through Autism Pictou County, which support more than 100 families in the area.
“2019 is shaping to be our best greatest year yet, starting with our autism centre downtown, which opened last year,” Wood said. “This facility gives us the opportunity to expand and improve all of our programs and services, while making our resources available to a greater number of Pictou County families.”
Both Wood and Kearley say their swim program is one great example of how they’re able to use funds raised to help people. The program was developed to offer one-on-one swim classes for people with autism. Wood said it’s been shown that a high number of people with autism drown because they have a natural affinity for water, but often lack the skills to swim.
“Our mission is to eliminate the possibility of accidental drowning by persons with autism and with your help, we’re on the right path,” Wood told Saturday’s crowd.
There are now 56 people enrolled in swim lessons and it is considered a leader in the province.
Kearley thanked all the volunteers who helped to make the event a success, particularly students from Northumberland Regional High School, who dedicated the day to help.
Over the last eight years, Kearley has seen the difference this kind of support can make.
“I don’t know where we would be without the group,” she said.
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