The White Plains Examiner

Thousands Take Part in White Plains Autism Walk

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Thousands of people participated in the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in White Plains.
Thousands of people participated in the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event in White Plains.

On a perfect Sunday on June 3, more than 15,000 people packed New York-Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains for Walk Now For Autism Speaks, one of the country’s biggest events for autism fundraising and awareness. Those embarking on the two-mile trek lined the roads of the hospital campus, most wearing matching t-shirts, many carrying signs. By the end of the walk the organization had raised over $850,000, putting it well on its way towards its goal of $1.5 million by year’s end.

For those who organized the walk and the people who took part, the strong turnout showed how much support there is for autism advocacy but also the growing number of people the condition affects.

“That’s the one cause which no one hesitates to give to,” explained Yonkers resident Kathleen Dempsey, whose nephew is autistic. “Because they all know somebody who’s been affected by it.”

In its 11th year, the walk is the biggest event of the year for the Westchester/Fairfield branch of Autism Speaks. The walks take place across the United States and in Canada.

“The big key is to provide a ton of awareness” as well as raise funds, Walk Manager Virginia Connell said. “It’s pretty much an establishment here in Westchester and Fairfield.”

While increased awareness through efforts like those undertaken by Autism Speaks have played a role in the growth of such events, so too has the increasing regularity in which the condition is diagnosed. Cases of autism have seen a 10-fold increase in the past four decades, according to Autism Speaks, a statistic partially but not entirely due to improvements in awareness and diagnosis. The reality, as many of the Walk Now participants can attest to, is that more people are being born with autism.

“I think when you see each year the group gets bigger and bigger, the number of people walking continues to grow,” said Dempsey, now in her seventh year participating in the walk. “It just goes to show you just how the number of people being diagnosed with autism has grown tremendously and there needs to be more resources out there for these kids.”

A brain development disorder, autism affects approximately one in 88 children, experts believe. Usually appearing in the first three years of a person’s life, autism affects one’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Josephine Chen, a Greenwich, Conn. resident and a speech and language pathologist, works with children with autism at her Fairfield practice. Eight employees from her company were at the walk Sunday, a tradition for the past several years.

“We just received some introductory documents and papers from them a few years ago, so we became interested and came,” Chen said. “We participate every year.”

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