This past Saturday the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event was held in St. Louis. I had never been to one nor did I know what it was about. I didn't know how many people would show up or what type of atmosphere there would be, but this year I would find out the answers because I would be working the TouchPoint Autism Services booth.
I got there rather early and as the minutes ticked away the empty parking lot slowly started to come to life. I had no idea how many people would be there, and already at 7:45 I was impressed.
By 9:00 I was shocked. This event wasn't just a few families getting together to raise awareness but rather a whole community there for one cause.
There were parents, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and every other type of family member you could imagine along with many who are on the autism spectrum.
While the general world hears the word autism and instantly thinks of the worst case negative situation, this community of walkers embraces the people they walk for.
By the time the start of the walk came the mass of humanity was massive. I also didn't know what type of atmosphere there would be, but it was like a celebration; a celebration of who we are on the spectrum. Parents were having conversations, sharing stories, and the best part was there was understanding between them.
As the walk started I became highly reflective and thought about so many people walking for the same reason. But what was this reason? What motivation was there for the tens of thousands of people to give up their Saturday morning to take a 1.5 mile walk?
I thought on those questions and came up with many answers. The first one, obviously, was that these people love someone on the spectrum. But walking? Then I saw a t-shirt that said, "Everyone wants to be heard" and then everything made sense.
With so many people having a collective cause being heard is easier. We don't walk to simply walk, we walk to be heard. Our messages may be different be it that I, myself, want the world to know that I am not defective but simply different (Aren't we all?), while others may walk to say that about their son or daughter.
The current numbers for autism state that 1 in about 100 will be on the spectrum, but that doesn't state how many people will be affected by the spectrum. The whole family becomes involved when a child is on the spectrum, and these walks allows the entire family to be heard.
So why do we walk? We walk to show the world that we exist. We walk to show the world that, while we have challenges, we won't run away from them. We walk to show our support for ourselves, or other loved ones, but most of all we walk in unison with others to be heard. Simply heard.