This guest post is from Sarah Kooluris, Co-Chair of our Westchester/Fairfield Walk Now for Autism Speaks. Why do you walk? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured on our Walk Now for Autism Speaks Blog!
I walk for my two boys who are affected by autism. I walk for autism awareness and acceptance. I walk because Autism Speaks has become an integral part of my family.
I have two children; AJ will be 5 in June and Holden turned 3 this past November. Both have an autism diagnosis, both on very different ends of the spectrum. AJ has classic autism and is non-verbal. We started the walk team "AJ’s All-Stars" in his honor.
When AJ was 6 months old, I knew something wasn’t “right”. I turned to Autism Speaks to research early signs of autism. I used that checklist and spoke to my pediatrician. He assured me that it was just first-time-mom jitters. As AJ got older and began to hit fewer and fewer milestones, I again turned to Autism Speaks. When others thought I was being paranoid, I knew – a mother knows. When AJ started early intervention, I turned to Autism Speaks to research service providers and programs in my area.
When AJ received his actual diagnosis in May 2011, I didn’t know where to turn. I thought I was prepared. I thought I knew what to do but the words were still devastating. I went through a few days of grieving when I cried and felt hopeless. During that time, someone handed me a Toys R Us pamphlet promoting the Westchester Fairfield Walk Now for Autism Speaks that was just two weeks away and ironically, fell on AJ’s second birthday. I created a team and AJ’s All Stars was born. We called friends, asked for donations and made some team shirts, but through it all, I was terrified. What would I see at this walk? What would a gathering of autistic people look like? Would we feel accepted? Would we be judged?
The day of the walk came and we packed up the boys and our banner and took the bus over to the walk. When I got off the bus, I was literally shaking. But in the moments when I pushed our stroller through the opening arches, I felt at home. I felt a sense of relief that I hadn’t felt in months…I felt like we were home. We have felt like that ever since.
This will be our fourth year walking. Every year our team grows, our donations increase and we spread our story. I have become an advocate for my children instead of a terrified mom… and through it all, I still turn to Autism Speaks for information, education and comfort.