Autism Awareness Month closes with second annual charity walk

The walk, in its second year, is sponsored by MU’s Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
The Thompson Center staff celebrating World Autism Day on April 2, 2019. Courtesy of Facebook via @TheThompsonCenter

The Autism Speaks chapter at MU and the MU Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders have collaborated to raise awareness for autism and its complexities in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

The Thompson Center created a calendar for the month with an array of events submitted by various organizations to help spread the word. Upcoming events include the Disability Dialogue Forum and Columbia’s Second Annual Autism Awareness Walk.

Nathan Hurst, a strategic communication consultant for the Thompson Center, said the purpose of the event is not necessarily to raise money but to raise awareness. He hopes they will partner with Autism Speaks again in the future when planning these events.

“As big and as broad as autism awareness is, it is difficult to measure the awareness,” Hurst said. “Overall, we have seen an increase in awareness; what autism is and isn’t.”

The Thompson Center’s mission is to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by autism. Through its clinic, it diagnoses and treats more than 3,500 patients each year, Hurst said. The center also has pediatricians, psychologists and researchers on hand, which leads to a better understanding of autism causes and possible treatments. Since its inauguration in 2005 with a gift from William and Nancy Thompson, it has expanded the research facility in fall 2017. This allowed more space for research, training and the treatment of patients.

Natalie Kukulka, a fourth-year medical student, can be credited with the creation of the most highlighted event on the calendar: Columbia’s Second Annual Autism Awareness Walk. There will be tables with sensory-friendly activities, music, educational tables from local organizations, a petting zoo and food trucks, according to the Thompson Center’s website.

Last year, Kukulka realized that there were walks for autism in St. Louis and Kansas City, but not Columbia. This motivated her to organize the inaugural walk in Columbia, and Kukulka described the process as difficult but rewarding.

When planning for the event, there is a lot of work to be done with flyers, advertisements and permits, along with creating a guide to help future organizers of the walk once she graduates. The money raised from the walks will be put toward sustaining the event for years to come.

“Hopefully it gives parents a break that they deserve because they work really hard and hopefully it gives kids a joyful moment outside of their homes as well,” Kukulka said. “If you are interested and you really want to know what autism is like, then you will be able to participate in these events and learn more about it and become more knowledgeable. It takes everyone’s own initiative to do that.”

The walk will take place from 9 a.m. to noon April 27 at Cosmo Park. It is free to the public.

Edited by Ethan Brown | ebrown@themaneater.com

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