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'Walk Now for Autism Speaks' set for Sunday at Idlewild

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Approximately 1,500 individuals are expected to participate in Walk Now for Autism Speaks — an event being held Sunday at Idlewild Park.

The community is invited to participate in the family-friendly event while supporting Autism Speaks — an agency devoted to the advocacy and awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Registration for the event begins at 1 p.m. in the parking lot and the walk begins at 3 p.m. Admission is free. Participants will walk through StoryBook Forest in support of ASD — the fastest-growing serious developmental disorder in the United States today, according to Autism Speaks.

“The walk is our single most powerful force to fund the vital research that will lead us to the answers we need,” said Lisa Maloney, Pittsburgh Walk manager.

Last year, the Laurel Highlands chapter of the organization earned more than $83,000 and they have set a goal of $85,000 for this year's walk.

The event, which has been held at Idlewild Park annually since 2008, offers an opportunity for those affected by the disorder to interact. Refreshments and entertainment will be provided and a resource fair will share information about services available to those on the autism spectrum. A children's area complete with gross motor activities, bubbles and balls will be set up.

“It is a way for us to provide awareness to the community,” said Kelly Most, Autism support teacher with the Southmoreland School District and member of the planning committee. Most added she feels the event allows the community to support children with ASD on a personal level.

“Many individuals participating in Walk Now do so in teams formed of families, friends and businesses, but you don't have to be part of a team to participate,” said co-chair Rebecca Quel.

Quel has been involved with Autism Speaks since 2007 — first as a walker, then a member of the planning committee and as co-chair of the event for the past three years.

“It's important to me, because I have three children with autism. Autism Speaks supports research and advocacy, which may help to make the future a little bit better for my boys,” Quel said.

On behalf of her team, Monkey Business, Quel will be raffling off approximately 50 gift baskets at Latrobe Hospital Thursday and Friday. Baskets include everything from a Kindle HD, Pirate tickets, Penguins' gear, Vera Bradley and Brighton items and gift cards to local restaurants.

“The day of the walk is just wonderful,” said co-chair of the event Bridget Fulmer, “It's so nice to see the families getting together.”

Fulmer, who has been working with ASD children for 17 years, said she thinks the event is a great way to support Autism Speaks.

“We need more awareness about ASD. Seventeen years ago one in 500 children were diagnosed, and today it's one in 88. There's still so much we don't know about it,” Fulmer said.

Many local businesses help out by being a financial sponsor, donating items such as refreshments or forming a team to walk. However, sponsors are still needed to make the event a success. The organization is seeking hot dogs and buns and gift cards or monetary donations to purchase these items, said Fulmer.

Giant Eagle in Ligonier is participating in the event by selling puzzle pieces, an official symbol of autism awareness, to display in the store.

“It's a great cause,” said Matt Faccenda, store leader. “We always like to participate any way we can.”

The success of Walk Now for Autism Speaks is evident in the growing amount of participants. “It gets bigger every year,” said Fulmer.

Educating the community about ASD is an important step toward helping families affected by the disorder.

“With understanding comes acceptance,” said Most.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.