By SHANNON COOMER
OBSERVER Staff Writer
The community will come together again to help support local children with autism.
Photos by Shannon Coomer
The hearts the students made for autism, shown above, are hung in windows throughout Dunkirk School 5 (top).
On May 12, the Dunkirk school system will hold its second annual "Rockin' Autism" Autism Awareness Walk and event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dunkirk High School.
"My strength comes through my son," said event organizer Diane Gifford, who has an autistic child in the Dunkirk school system. "Autistic kids are so loving; they are just misunderstood."
The goal of the 1.5-mile walk is to increase awareness of this developmental disorder and to raise money for local schools so they can be better equipped to help the students with autism.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (ninds.nih.gov) defines autism as "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior." Autism affects every socioeconomic, ethnic, and age group.
According to estimates released in March by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov), one in every 88 children in the United States is affected by autism - one in 54 are boys.
Many people are familiar with autism but do not really understand this disorder. Although there is no cure for autism, with proper care and the right resources, the life of an autistic child can be greatly improved. That is why this walk is so important for this community; with the right resources for the Dunkirk School System, many children with autism can be helped.
"People need to know that there are ways to work with these children and to help them be part of society just like everybody else," said Alison Williams, a special education teacher at Dunkirk School 5.
Last year's proceeds were divided among the elementary schools. Part of those proceeds went toward a resource therapy sensory room.
"The specific types of equipment used in there is for children on the autism spectrum where they can go and have access to different types of movement input, organize and calm their bodies, and regroup, so that they are ready, available and able to learn in the classroom," explained Stacey Lovern, occupational therapist at School 5.
Proceeds of this year's walk will be donated to School 5 for a sensory playground, School 4 for a family resource library, and School 7 for resources and equipment, all of which will assist the special needs children in those schools.
"Being able to go on equipment that offers movement provides a sensory calm for them," Williams said. "The equipment that would be put out there would be a little different than your typical playground so that these kids could go and get the sensory stimulus that they need outside. This playground would provide visuals, sounds, smells, movements and other sensory stimuli that children on the spectrum enjoy and are calming to them."
"Whereas before they were at BOCES or in a special education classroom, now students with autism are in many classrooms all over the district," explained Marcy Conti, speech-language Pathologist at School 5. "What we want to do is be able to provide resources for the teachers and for the families of the students with autism so that they have that information accessible to them - new information about autism and how to help them within your classroom or how a parent can help their child."
Last year the organizers had only hoped that the walk could become an annual event. Now, that hope is a reality.
"Last year's walk went above and beyond what we expected," Gifford proudly said. "It was very successful. For a first time event, we had over 300 people there. That was huge."
With how successful last year's walk was and with the overwhelming response from the community, they have decided to make it even bigger this year and to reach some of the surrounding communities.
This year will include three musicians performing a live concert: Sean Patrick McGraw, Gina V, and Nicky and Andy. McGraw, a native of Dunkirk, has toured with Toby Keith and Trace Adkins. Gina V was raised in Fredonia. She writes and performs a variety of music from alternative rock to blues to country. Nicky and Andy are students at Dunkirk High School. The musicians will each be donating an hour of their time to help this cause.
Along with the concert, there will be face painting, a Chinese auction, cartoon characters and a bounce house. From noon to 4 p.m. a Weidner chicken barbecue will be served. The cost for the barbecue is $8. People are encouraged to stop by throughout the day and enjoy the activities and concert for a small donation at the door even if they do not want to walk in the event.
Gifford is asking businesses, companies, facilities, and corporations in the area to support this walk and help its success by making a donation of any type. She would also extends thanks to everyone who participated and all the local businesses that contributed last year.
On the day of the event, registration starts at 10:30 a.m. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for those 14 and under. Children 5 and under are free.
Registration forms are currently available at any of the Dunkirk Public Schools, the Dunkirk Library, Chautauqua Health and Fitness, and Darwin's Fitness Center, or contact Gifford. The deadline for registration forms is April 30 but will be accepted until May 5. Each participant will receive a free T-shirt and gets into the concert for free.
If unable to come to the walk, donations can be sent to Gifford at 108 W. Fourth St., Dunkirk, NY 14048. Donations will also be accepted at the door. Make checks payable to Dunkirk School 5 PTO.
For more information, call Mike or Diane Gifford at 366-3330.