19 July 2008

Why I Walk

Today at the Bridgewater Marriott, I attended the first of two "Kick-Off" events for the Central New Jersey "Walk Now For Autism" fundraiser - which will be held October 19 at Mercer County College. This morning's event was designed to start off the fundraising season by providing our team captains across the Central New Jersey area with information and materials needed for a successful campaign. It also allowed people to meet and trade ideas.

As the MC this morning, I necessarily did a lot of speaking - and also contributed to a segment of the program titled "Why I Walk". This is what I said.

When people ask me why I walk to raise money for autism research, I reply with three words – Unknowable, Untreatable, Incurable. It wasn’t too long ago that parents faced with a diagnosis of autism would hear these three words, and despair.

Unknowable, because just a few years ago, parents, pediatricians, and neurologists didn’t know the early signs of autism, couldn’t diagnose autism. Not only was autism not understood, but perhaps it could never be understood. Parents were told that their child would live in a world of his own, one that you could never enter and never know.

Autism Speaks and its predecessor organizations changed all that. Through our awareness efforts, there isn’t a pediatrician in the nation who isn’t aware of the early signs of autism. There isn’t a week where autism isn’t in the news, on the talk shows, or even in the soaps. Today, Autism IS Knowable.

Untreatable. As recently as a decade ago, there were many who still felt that Autism was essentially untreatable. Maybe people with autism could learn, but they could never “improve”. Even behavioral therapies, which we now know are essential, were said to be unproven. At best, they were “worth a shot” – at worst, at least parents felt like they were doing something.

Just recently, scientific research has been able to show not only that Applied Behavioral Analysis works, but also how it works in the brain. We know now that children with autism CAN improve, and will improve. Today, Autism IS Treatable.

There’s just one word left – Incurable. That word is often in the first sentence of any description of autism. Sometimes it’s the second word! – as in “an incurable neurological disorder”.

Research funded by Autism Speaks is working to change that. At the Autism Speaks Annual Conference this past March, I was fascinated by the scientists’ presentations. They are indeed working towards a cure. There’s just one thing they need – money.

I am confident that ongoing research, funded by US, will deliver a cure. One day I will stand before you, and be able to say, Autism IS Curable.

And that’s why I walk.

Please visit http://www.autismspeaks.org/ for more information, and to join our local walk.

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