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Families affected by autism have their own challenges, but this weekend will be an opportunity for them, their friends and the community to celebrate and educate.
The fourth annual Working the Puzzle for Autism Walk will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at Graham Memorial Park in Lebanon. In the event of rain, the walk will be moved to Lebanon Elementary School.
"So many of these kids have so much potential. It's just a matter of tapping into it," said Lisa Nally-Martin, the walk organizer.
Last year, one of those kids, John Mikkiah Thompson, sang to open the event. While he won't be able to attend this year, he is contributing in another way. Nally-Martin sent him a link to a music video on Youtube, and a week later, Thompson sent her a recording of the music. Carrie Fowler and Mekenzie Gadberry, both of whom have been diagnosed in the autism spectrum, will sing a song during the opening ceremony accompanied by that music.
The walk will include a medallion ceremony to recognize each individual with autism.
"Last year we recognized 29 kids. I hope it's more this year," Nally-Martin said.
The walk is aimed at increasing awareness of autism, as well.
According to autismspeaks.org, autism is a general term for a group of brain development disorders. Individuals with autism may have difficulties with social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication problems, and exhibit repetitive behaviors.
Autism is also becoming more common. According to autismspeaks.org, it has become 10 times more prevalent in the last 40 years, and today one out of every 68 children in the United States falls within the autism spectrum. It's more common in boys (one in 42) than in girls (one in 189).
Families affected by autism will be eligible to win an iPad, and iPod Touch, a $250 therapy supply gift card, a $100 iTunes gift card, or an autism Build-A-Bear. Other door prizes will be offered to anyone in attendance at Saturday's event.
Autism therapy providers will have representatives available to answer questions, and the Marion County Cattlemen's Association will be cooking at the park Saturday.
And for $5, children will be able to play a variety of games and climb and slide on inflatables.
Proceeds from the autism walk will be used to purchase Project Lifesaver bracelets, which makes it easier to track someone if they wander away. The Working the Puzzle for Autism board has been able to purchase 15 bracelets in the last few years.
Nally-Martin said she feels honored by the individuals and businesses that have sponsored this year's event. She also hopes the community will come out to show their support.
"I want people to know what potential these kids have," she said.