Inspired by his son, Hardin leads effort to benefit a camp for autistic boys ages 10-15

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: TOD HARDIN - Daniel Hardin, 12, was the inspiration for his father's office to start the Its My Ability 5K for Autism. Tod Hardin grew up in Gresham and started his orthodontic practice in 1996.

Last year, Dr. Tod Hardin had a conversation with his son that transformed his perspective.

Daniel, now 12, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age 4.

In many ways, Daniel excels with cognitive skills — memorization, math, music, computers and spelling. But social interactions pose a challenge.

After a rough day, Hardin affirmed that his son had tremendous gifts, especially for his age. That he was cool. That he always spoke from the heart. That he shouldn’t worry about being like everyone else.

At the end of the conversation, Daniel lit up, smiling ear-to-ear, and said, “Autisim is not my disability, it’s my ability.”

“It can carry over into so many different things, not just autism,” Hardin said. “The message is to be yourself and be happy with that — to reach out and help people to do the same.”

That 2012 conversation inspired an event.

The inaugural It’s My Ability 5K for Autism will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Boring Station Trailhead Park. Entry is $30, and the event is recommended for kids 10 and older.

Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit organization Autism Spectrum Disorders Oregon (ASD Oregon) that runs a summer camp for children with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning autism.

“Many of these kids don’t fit into a special needs camp but typical camps are not a good fit either,” said Misti Moxley, executive director of ASD Oregon and Camp Odakoda. “There is such a need for this type of experience. It’s not about therapy or fixing something, but an opportunity to make friends and build confidence. It’s a place where they’re accepted — they just fly.”

Hardin’s office, which has been involved in a number of charitable ventures since opening its doors in 1996, has a goal of raising $10,000, or 10-15 scholarships for kids to attend Camp Odakoda.

Created in 2010, Camp Odakoda creates the same summer camp experience many children enjoy, but with the added support for children who fall on the autism spectrum.

Gaining in popularity, the camp drew participants this year from Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Mississippi and North Carolina. Moxley said ASD Oregon added an additional week of camp to accommodate the 90 campers.

For Hardin, supporting the Oregon camp is a natural fit. It’s local and benefits kids his son’s age with similar diagnoses.

This summer, Hardin taught fishing at the camp, and next year he hopes Daniel will attend.

“The people that make me successful in my job are the kids and moms — ultimately kids are most of my patients and moms in our society are often the ones who bring the kids in for treatment,” Hardin said. “This is the group I want to give back to the most.”

It’s My Ability will feature a 5K walk and run options, music, activities for younger children, a photo booth, vendors and a give away, including more than $5,000 worth of orthodontic treatment by Hardin.

Sponsors of the event outside Hardin include Opal Orthodontics by Ultradent Products, Ever Fresh, Doctor Will Bar, Under the Sea Dentistry for Children, Yogg and Persimmon Country Club.

Hardin said one of his goals was to bring the dental community together for this event.

Troutdale dentist Mark Dorrough will lead off the run and hold a moment of silence for those killed and injured in the Boston Marathon.

The marathoner ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon in which two bomb explosions killed three and injured 200.

For the prize giveaways, Hardin will bring up the boy who inspired the event: Daniel.

“Although this race is specifically about raising money for autism, the message it carries is much bigger — embrace your abilities,” Hardin said.

If you go

What: It’s My Ability 5K for Autism, recommended for kids 10 and older

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 7

Where: Boring Station Trailhead Park

Why: To raise awareness about autism and raise money for Autism Spectrum Disorders of Oregon’s (ASD Oregon) Camp Odakoda, an Oregon camp for boys and girls age 10-15 who have Asperger’s syndrome or high functioning autism

Cost: $30 entry


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