Christina Davis, a Milwaukie resident, will be participating for the first time this year in the fifth annual Autism Walk-a-thon, held on April 22 at Oaks Park. (See sidebar)

'I am trying to give back to the community, and also to be an example to other parents. If it wasn't for the Autism Society of Oregon, I would not have had as much help, and I want to make other people aware,' she said.

Davis is raising her 4-year-old granddaughter, Jacqueline Davis, who was first diagnosed with autism in November of 2005.

'She was born in Gresham, and we took her to a pediatrician, because she was not responding to us talking to her, or to loud noises. She was referred for a hearing test, which is pretty common for children with autism,' Davis explained.

Jacqueline passed the hearing test, and then the situation became 'tricky,' Davis said, because she did not have custody of her granddaughter at that time, and it was up to the girl's mother to follow through on the diagnosis.

'She was in denial,' Davis added.

In less than nine months, however, Davis was granted custody, and she took her granddaughter to another clinic in California.

Then the pair moved to Milwaukie in January of 2006 and Davis took Jacqueline to OHSU to be re-evaluated, and she was again diagnosed with autism.

'Usually an autistic child is evaluated during the first year, and it is evident by the time they are 3 years old,' Davis said.

There is a spectrum associated with autism, but Davis noted that 'when [children] are diagnosed, they don't tell you to what degree [they have autism]. So I have just focused on what I need to keep working with her and improve her skills.'

Davis said she 'got involved with the Education Service Department of Clackamas County,' and added that her granddaughter 'goes to therapy through the ESD. She is in a pre-school program where she gets occupational therapy and speech therapy.'

Davis said she works with Jacqueline at home, 'using the skills that they have taught me.'

April is National Autism Awareness Month

Davis said she first heard about the Fifth Annual Autism Walk-a-thon through her work with a program called Family Focus on Autism, through the ESD.

'A lot of parents get together and we discuss upcoming events. It is a support group, and I'm sent the information to pass out,' she explained.

Since April is National Autism Awareness Month, the walk-a-thon is a way to support the Autism Society of Oregon, and 'a good way to meet other parents and connect with people,' Davis said.

With that in mind, Davis has formed a local autism support group that meets the first Wednesday of every month at St. John the Evangelistic Episcopal Church, located at 2036 SE Jefferson Street in Milwaukie. (See sidebar.)

It is a place for 'parents to go and find support, share stories and gather and share information,' Davis said.

Dealing with an autistic child can sometimes be 'frustrating,' Davis noted, adding, 'Sometimes the family is not supporting you - they don't understand.'

Davis has formed the support group, she said, in order to provide 'encouragement.'

She said researchers are beginning to classify autism as 'an epidemic.'

The situation is 'very serious,' she said, noting that in Oregon one in 98 children is born with autism, while the national average is one in 150.

'Ten years ago, it was one in 1,200,' she said.

Davis added, 'I want to help parents with issues, I want to provide resources to answer questions and I want to do things as a group.'

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