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Oaks Park to host two April autism events

by: Rita A. Leonard, Autism Awareness Month will be celebrated by two events at Oaks Amusement Park. April 22nd is the fifth annual Autism Walk-A-Thon, and April 29th marks the “Sean’s Run From Autism” fundraiser. Shown here, at Oaks Park, as they completed making the arrangements, are, from left, Kathy Henley, Director of ARRO; Sean Henley; John Henley; and Genevieve Athens, Executive Director of ASO.

Eastmoreland resident Genevieve Athens is Executive Director of the 'Autism Society of Oregon'; the ASO is committed to providing information and resources to address this puzzling and isolating condition.

The society also helps organize fundraising and social events to support families and professionals, and in April, Oaks Amusement Park will host two such events, aimed to benefit the autism community.

On April 22nd, the fifth annual Autism Walk-A-Thon takes place at Oaks Park; for details, visit the Internet website: www.autismwalkathon.com. Ms. Athens was instrumental in organizing the event, which helps fund summer camp scholarships and conferences on current issues involving autism.

The event also promotes networking among professionals and families. Registration (with T-shirts for all participants) begins at 9 am on that Sunday morning, and the Walk commences at 1 am. Discounted Amusement Park ride bracelets are available following the event. Picnicking and roller-skating opportunities are also available.

Then on April 29th, Oaks Park will host another fundraiser, 'Sean's Run From Autism.' This 5K and 10K run is sponsored by 'Autism Research and Resources of Oregon (ARRO)', and their project, the Oregon Autism Center.

Former Grant High School track runner Sean Henley, an adult with autism, is the inspiration behind this event. Sean's parents, John and Kathy Henley, have promoted autism awareness for nearly 20 years. Kathy Henley is the Director for ARRO, and says, 'We're hoping to register at least 100 runners.' Check for information at the Internet website: www.seansrun.org.

'Miss Oregon', Donilee McGinnis, will be the emcee at both events. McGinnis also competed in the 2007 Miss America competition on a platform of Autism Awareness.

Autism resources in the Portland area include authors, programs and treatment centers. The Henleys formerly published a newsletter called 'Rain Kids', with news and personal accounts from families affected by autism. In 1987, Ron and Joan Hurl, and other parents, founded the Autistic Children's Activity Program. The organization and its service area were greatly expanded by the Henleys, and now ACAP is a prominent Portland summer resource for autistic school-age children.

Brooklyn's Pacific Northwest Pediatric Therapy Clinic at 4305 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue offers Sensory Integration therapy, often used to treat autistic children. On April 14th, the Portland Trailblazers will hold their third annual 'Autism Awareness Night'; funds raised at the event are slated for local autism programs.

The ASO recently began a social club for autistic girls ages ten and older at Moreland Presbyterian Church. Athens says, 'The 'Girl Power Group' aims to help girls with social language development, social play, turn-taking, and understanding body language.' Meetings are held the 3rd Saturday of each month from 1 to 3 pm. For information, check the Internet website: www.oregonautism.com.

These and similar resources can be researched at Future Horizons, whose website address is: www.futurehorizons-autism.com. It's the country's premier resource on autism.

As the condition is becoming better known, references to autism have been creeping into popular fiction, including a character in mysteries by John Straley, and the award-winning best seller, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime' by Mark Haddon.

Another useful Internet website for understanding the autistic mind is www.autism-pdd.net/brad.htm. In-depth research, autobiographical accounts by autistic adults such as Temple Grandin and Donna Williams, and pro-active efforts by friends and families of autistic persons, have all shed much light on this unusual condition.

Celebrating the unique talents of persons with autism, particularly through art and computer technology, has given new hope to affected families. In addition, the study of autism and its various obsessions can offer valuable insight into our own minor quirks and foibles. Consider participating in the two fund-raising events this month at Oaks Park!