More than 25,000 Angelenos gathered at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena on Saturday to participate in the annual Walk Now For Autism Speaks event. The family-friendly walkathon takes place in 90 cities across the country to raise awareness for the syndrome and funds for more research. Before the walk had even started, event organizers were reporting that donations already exceeded last year's Los Angeles contribution at $1.3 million, according to ABC7. By the end of the walk, the figure was over $1.4 million and counting.
The event provided a strong counterpoint to the isolation that parents often feel when caring for a child with autism. Former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, who has a child with autism, was there to sign copies of his book "Not My Son!" Peete said to HuffPost:
The biggest thing about autism is finding support. When you see the crowd out here, family members and friends advocating for a child suffering from autism, it's amazing. Ten years ago the crowd wasn't like this. The awareness wasn't there.
There's a real epidemic going on, and families sometimes don't know where to turn or where to go. Autism Speaks and events like this create opportunities for families to talk to people and share their stories, so they don't feel like they're alone.
When Bob Wright, vice-chairman of General Electric, and his wife Suzanne founded Autism Speaks in 2005, it was estimated that 1 in 166 babies born would be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. According to the CDC, the rate has since accelerated to 1 in 110. Nowadays, autism advocates are juggling two roles: raising money for research to prevent the syndrome, and making sure that the therapies and resources for autistic children and their families are easily accessible. Last Saturday's walk was one step closer to finding a cure.