Monday, December 4, 2017

"Autism Speaks " by Stephanie Welter

    A few months ago I received a message from a beautiful woman that I had met this spring when I had the honor of giving the commencement speak at LionsGate Academy graduation ceremony. Her and I had the chance to speak about her little boy and also her nephew, who at the time was graduating. We exchanged contact information and resolved that we would connect down the road.
    When I received a message from Ramona to join her and team Autism Love at the annual Autism Speaks walk, I was thrilled. I immediately said yes and knew we were going to have an incredible adventure. I was honored to walk with her and Jayden, but was also walking for my son Benjamin and our entire family.
   Our walk began as we gathered together at the US Bank Stadium, a place I had never been, but was awe-struck by. It’s an incredibly beautiful piece of architecture and the fact that we were going to get the chance to actually walk ON the field sent a thrill up everyone’s spine. We gathered together in the middle of the field and prepared to honor our loved ones with a sensory friendly cheer. We each had pom-poms and instead of cheering and clapping, we quietly shook out pom-poms in solidarity and with excitement as we prepared for the national anthem.
    A young man took the stage. I was told he had autism, and as he stepped to the microphone to sing the national anthem, tears fell from my eyes. It was a beautiful sound and an even more moving site to see this young man stand in courage in front of a crowd and share in these moments of togetherness and community.
    We watched as photos flashed across the jumbotron of our smiling, laughing faces and teams gathered for team shots. We saw the signal 3...2...1 on the jumbotron and the walk officially began.
    As we walked we all talked and shared stories, therapeutic journeys and bragged about the amazing progress and achievements both big and small that our loved ones were making. Kids shook their pom-poms, parents pushed strollers and advocates held team signs. After a few laps about US Bank Stadium, the walk was complete and the organization Autism Speaks completed another successful fundraising walk to help kids on the spectrum get the help and support they need to live full productive lives.
    The more time I spend in the autism community the more fascinated I am and the more proud I become.

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