Locals support autism awareness


Locals support autism awareness


Becky Walz


In an effort to support autism awareness, approximately 75 runners and walkers hit the road in Ossian on Saturday in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

The first annual 5K Run/Walk was part of a statewide event sponsored by the Autism Society of Iowa and a variety of other businesses to bring increased autism awareness in northeast Iowa and throughout the state.

“Our family walked to raise awareness because we see how our family member and a very dear family friend are affected by autism daily,” said Christine VanHorn, a Spillville resident.

Marie Conway of Castalia, a special education teacher at Decorah High School, coordinated the event and was hoping for 50 participants. She was overwhelmed by the amount of support she received locally.

Conway, who has been teaching students with multiple special needs at Decorah for nearly seven years, has worked with students with autism, and through her work she became involved with the Autism Society of Iowa.

She, along with other members of the statewide organization, decided to organize an event and first chose a virtual 5K that spanned a week, ending during the prestigious Drake Relays on April 27.

“We wanted to do something different. We already do a day at the hill with legislators and other special events but this is unique,” stated Conway.

The group brainstormed and envisioned high school students completing the 5K or donating their practices to autism awareness. Then if those students qualified for the Drake Relays, they could wear their Autism Awareness shirts.

“We are hoping to move from just awareness to an understanding of individuals with autism,” said the mother of four.

She added that everyone knows at least one individual with autism or a family who deals with autism daily, but she noted that everyone with autism is different.

“Getting more awareness out there will make it easier, have it more understood, and have an even better support group for these individuals and their families affected by it,” added VanHorn.

Ossian was an easy location for Conway to choose for the northeast Iowa event because the course has been laid out for the Ossian Fest 5K for the last several years.

“I felt really comfortable using the out-and-back course,” Conway said of choosing Ossian for the first annual Autism Awareness 5K Run/Walk.

In the future, the organizer hopes to move the 5K to other locations such as Calmar, Decorah, or Clermont.

“Hopefully it gets to be a bigger and bigger event,” concluded Conway.

Autism is so prevalent in today’s society, yet many people don’t know how to handle the situation with a person affected by it. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 88 births, almost one in every 54 boys.

The spotlight being shown on autism opens up doors of opportunities for the nation to consider how to better serve these individuals and their families facing a lifetime of support.

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