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Working the Puzzle for Autism walk returns Saturday

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By Emily LaForme

The 8th Annual Working the Puzzle for Autism Walk is returning on April 21, with fun activities, prizes, a special recognition ceremony, magic show and performances from American Idol contestant Layla Spring.

The walk begins at 10 a.m. at Graham Memorial Park, and is sure to be a big hit in the community once again. 

Lisa Nally-Martin dreamed up the walk eight years ago, never dreaming it would turn into the success and community staple like it has. 

“We started between 2010 and 2011. My son Evan has autism, and that was the main reason why it was started,” said Nally-Martin. “I found that many local parents didn’t know about resources that were available, providers of therapy services, just the different information that was available and needed different networking opportunities. I felt like it was a very needed resource in this area.”

After initially fronting the money for the walk to take place, Nally-Martin was both relieved and pleased when the walk was a big success. 

“I decided I wanted to have a walk to raise awareness. I just decided to do it out at the park,” said Nally-Martin. “I got some shirts, and I think the very first year we had 12 or 13 kids recognized. I actually used my own funds to do that. I was a little nervous, but people showed up and we had a good turnout. Ever since then, it has just blossomed.”’

The City of Lebanon and surrounding communities have shown nothing but support for the walk ever since. 

“I started getting messages and questions from other parents and people in the community, and really started raising awareness, and it just started trickling from there,” Nally-Martin said. “Now we order 500 shirts. That’s just how much it’s grown.”

The walk is funded by donations and sponsors. The event also features a silent auction, and there is a medallion ceremony that recognizes kids and adults that are affected by autism. All the proceeds go directly to the autism center.

The main focus of the event is honoring and recognizing the children and young adults that are affected by autism. The event also includes a special drawing for the individuals affected by autism and they give away two laptops, an iPad, a $250 therapy supply gift certificate, two tickets to the zoo and some building blocks.

“Just things that we have found in the past that kids with autism love,” said Nally-Martin. 

All individuals and families in the community are welcome at the walk. The event is free, with the exception of a $5 bracelet fee for kids participating in the games and activities. 

“Any individuals can come. You don’t have to be someone that is affected by autism to participate,” Nally-Martin said.

 

Families affected by autism are able to access and learn more about resources available to them at the walk. 

“We have providers from therapy services there to give out information,” Nally-Martin said. “The Project Lifesaver Team will be there. We’ve used funds in the past to provide Project Lifesaver bracelets for the individual affected by autism. It’s a tracking device. Individuals affected by autism tend to wander off.”

The walk will host performances from Layla Spring and magician Cody Clark, a 24-year-old professional magician and autistic self-advocate from Louisville.

Proceeds from the event help fund the Working the Puzzle for Autism Center, which opened in 2015 in Lebanon. 

“That was our vision,” Nally-Martin said. “We wanted a place where all these kids that don’t feel comfortable going out in the community can come and do different activities and feel comfortable meeting with kids and adults that are similar to them. The parents can network together, and we do different outings and therapy sessions. We talk to each other and encourage each other. It’s a place where people can come and no one is going to judge you.”

In the case of inclement weather, the walk will be moved to Marion County High School instead of Graham Memorial Park on Saturday, April 21.