This year’s “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” advocacy demonstration will kick off this Saturday at downtown’s East Beach at 10 a.m.
Nonprofit organization Autism Speaks funds research into treatment options and potential cures for the neurological disorder and aims to provide a supportive environment for individuals and families affected by autism. The walk will feature a resource fair with lawyers and service providers, an information booth from UCSB’s Koegel Autism Center and former ABC “Bachelor” contestant Andrew Firestone as master of ceremonies.
According to Executive Director of Autism Speaks’ Los Angeles Chapter Phillip Hain, the group’s main goal is to provide a wide variety of resources for autistic individuals while actively educating the public about the condition.
“Our organization works to fund research, raise awareness and advocacy and provide services for families who have a child or a member with autism,” Hain said.
The neurodevelopmental disorder — present in one out of every 110 children in the United States — affects social and communicative abilities and is often characterized by a narrow scope of interests and a marked delay in language development. However, many autistic individuals display remarkable cognitive capabilities such as expansive memorization, acute perception and exceptional musical talent.
Autism Speaks Publicist Jess Block said national diagnosis for the disorder has grown in recent years.
“Autism affects more and more people,” Block said. “Everyone’s life is touched in some way.”
The condition also impacts a significant number of residents from Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas, according to Head of Koegel Autism Assessment Clinic Ty Vernon.
“Autism is a growing concern in our community, and it is difficult to find someone who does not have a loved one affected by autism,” Vernon said.
The center, led by UCSB professors Lynn and Robert Koegel, specializes in autism assessment, educational techniques and treatment.
Koegel Autism Center Clinic Coordinator Anahita Navab said the walk helps educate the campus community about the group’s mission.
“It is important for UCSB students to be involved in the walk to support the center and generally support the cause,” Navab said. “This is an opportunity to become more knowledgeable about this topic.”
Autism Speaks Event Director Pam Eisenberg said the walk helps participants gain a more comprehensive understanding of how autism impacts their peers.
“Students should participate and walk on behalf of siblings, roommates, loved ones or even just to raise awareness,” Eisenberg said. “Being a college student with autism is twice as hard compared to a college student without autism. Everybody is different and has different needs, but, with this walk, everybody can accept this and become part of the bigger picture.”