Walk Now events build a community of acceptance and inclusion

Community support is growing for Walk Now events across the country, says Paul Stellato, who is the local walk ambassador in Toronto and father of two young boys with autism. supplied

Community support is growing for Walk Now events across the country, says Paul Stellato, who is the local walk ambassador in Toronto and father of two young boys with autism. supplied

By RandallAnthony Communications

Across the country, more than 11,000 Canadians will come together between May and September this year to participate in Walk Now, the single most important annual fundraising initiative for Autism Speaks Canada (ASC). Since 2007, Walk Now participants have raised more than $9.8-million for research, advocacy and support services for individuals with autism and their families.

Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us are the national presenting sponsors of the Walk Now events. “Since our partnership with Autism Speaks Canada started in 2010, our employees and customers have helped build awareness and raise more than $4.2-million for Autism Speaks Canada,” says Kevin MacNab, president of Toys “R” Us Canada and a member of the Autism Speaks Canada board of directors. “Autism affects the families of our employees, our customers and our vendors.  

“We want to raise money to find the missing pieces [of the autism research puzzle], but we also want to raise awareness of autism throughout our communities,” MacNab adds.  

Paul Stellato agrees that Walk Now isn’t just about raising funds. “It’s about community, acceptance, integration – and a greater understanding of what autism means to the kids who have it, to their families and to society as a whole going forward.”

He welcomes the support families bring to the event and says teams are getting bigger and bigger. Acting as this year’s local walk ambassador in Toronto, Stellato is also the father of two young boys with autism.

“We realize that we’re lucky,” he says. “Our kids were diagnosed early, and we have the means to be able to support them with therapy. But we also realize that, in Ontario anyway, there’s not a lot of public money out there for these services.

“Learning about the work of Autism Speaks Canada made my wife and I think about where our boys would be if we didn’t have the resources. We try to do as much as we can for families who may not be as fortunate as we are, so that these children all have access to more help.”

With autism spectrum disorder prevalence increasing dramatically, adults with autism will make up an increasingly large proportion of the Canadian population in the future, says Stellato. If research and therapeutic support isn’t funded now, he says, “it’s going to have a much greater impact on all of us.”

Among other fundraising and awareness initiatives Toys “R” Us sponsors is the “Puzzle Piece Campaign,” when Autism Speaks puzzle pieces are sold in stores and online each March and April.

“With the support of our customers, we have increased our donation every year. Our goal this year is $800,000 – the campaign is currently underway,” says MacNab, adding an invitation to drop into one of the stores or go online to make a donation – 100 per cent of the money raised goes directly to ASC.

Every year before the campaign, Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us associates receive training in the latest autism information, he says. “I am incredibly proud of the enthusiasm and commitment of all our teams across Canada.”

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in the areas of social interaction and communication, as well as restrictive and repetitive behaviour.

Did you know?
Autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Prevalence of ASD has increased 100 per cent in the last decade.
One in 68 children is diagnosed with ASD.
Boys are four to five times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.
The average age of diagnosis is older than four, yet autism traits
can be identified as early as eight months and reliably diagnosed
by age two.
Early identification enables essential early intervention.

What we know:
Anxiety, seizures, disturbed sleep and painful gastrointestinaldisorders are justsome of the medical conditions commonly associated with autism.
Up to 80 per cent of adults with ASD are unemployed.

View full report online at globeandmail.com.