Usually, taking a child diagnosed with autism out in public is no walk in the park. There are the meltdowns, the outbursts the stares from others. Now imagine a city park, filled with hundreds and hundreds of children on the autism spectrum, gathered together. It can only be described with one word… beautiful.
At The Walk for Autism in Hampton Park (Charleston, SC), that’s just what happened. There we were, all colors, all religions, all backgrounds, and all ages gathered in one place, under one judgment-free sky. Aware that anything could happen, a meltdown, a wanderer, or a piercing scream, we were comfortable knowing that at least here, we all would understand.
This walk, as a parent of a special needs child, is one with an unpredictable path, with many more questions than answers. But it’s a walk that is worth every single step for the sake of our children. In the world of autism, silence is one of the most disheartening sounds. But at The Walk for Autism, it was the sound of music and laughter that … made our day.
There is an undeniable energy present when people come together as advocates, especially when children are involved. That positive energy revealed itself every time the live band played. And play they did, tirelessly, until every child who wanted to, danced into a place called Happy, where they fell out from laughter, not from a meltdown. Parents relaxed and recharged and re-believed while the unmistakable joy that every child should rightfully know lifted them above staggering statistics, meetings,tantrums and health-care costs. Safe to say in that moment, all there was… was that moment. #exhale
Not shocking were the number of people in attendance. There were hundreds. And next year there will likely be hundreds more because the numbers are rising. In April, the CDC revealed the number of children affected by autism is now 1 in 88. For boys, that number is 1 in 54. That means this year, more parents will get the unwelcomed news that they are now members of the autism community. It’s easy to feel like you’re in the fight alone. Events like this prove otherwise.
Even among strangers, our similar stories soon made our faces familiar. We were a family of sorts, and this event was one of many reunions. The voluntary exchange of information covered everything from hyperbaric oxygen therapy to gluten-free recipes to learning to measure life by the inch to businesses that recognize and cater to special needs families. No stories were right or wrong, only hopeful, as in, “…have you tried this, and in my experience…”
While some of our hearts were so heavy they came to the walk merely crawling, soon, we were running because there is certain strength in numbers and knowing you’re not alone. We met people there fighting for the wholeness of their children, patients, students, neighbors, and friends. Amazing were the high-fives, handshakes and hugs that were given as we exited the park. It is true that people go to school and learn to be many things, but no one learns years in advance how to be a parent of a child with special needs. There are some things you can only learn about by walking through it.
What are some of the things you have learned while walking it out with your kids?
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Sarena James, 35, is a wife and stay-at-home mother of three who enjoys theater and writing. She and her family reside in Charleston, SC where they frequent historic tours and relax beach side. Originally from Aurora, CO, Sarena is a graduate of Paine College in Augusta, Ga. Read more about Sarena and her family’s journey with autism at her website, OnAisle9.