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Autism 5K to be held in county

Jessica Hamilton has been participating in events for autism awareness across the region for nearly ten years. She finally decided it was high time to have an autism awareness event right here in Franklin County – and the Autism 5K became a reality.

“It seems as though it’s a huge task to take on, but it’s a cause my family is very passionate about,” Hamilton said. “My husband Greg and I felt confident we could bring (this) event to Franklin County because there were always a few Franklin County residents participating the the events we were attending. We knew the interest was already there.

As teachers, the Hamiltons have interacted with children with autism often and are familiar with the challenges. Plus, we have a son that was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome: high-functioning autism,” Jessica Hamilton said.

The Autism 5K, which is planned to be an annual event, will be held April 9 at the Red Bay High School Track. In addition to the 5K run, there will be a two-mile walk, and people can sign up individually or as teams of four or more members.

Race check-in ($35) is at 7 a.m., and the 5K race starts at 7:30 a.m. Walk check-in ($30) is at 8:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 9:30 a.m. Cost is $25 for the 5K and $20 for the walk for children 10 and younger.

“Since this is our first year to have the event, we didn’t know what to expect, really,” Hamilton said. “We have had more people participating and asking for more information than I ever expected.”

Hamilton said the money raised will go towards funding training for first responders to care for autistic children and adults during an emergency situation. Counties hosting an Autism Society of Alabama event will be put at the top of the list for first responder training.

But although raising money is crucial, there is another important aspect of having the 5K.

“I want to educate others about the autism spectrum disorder to help them understand that just because people may look typical doesn’t mean that they are typical,” Hamilton said. “This is what fires my passion to spread autism awareness: the judging of my child’s behavior by those who have no idea what the child and his entire family are going through just to get by from day-to-day. Parents of children on the spectrum live a different lifestyle, compared to typical families.”

Hamilton said she “once read that a mother of an autistic child has the stress level equal to a solider in combat.” That’s a reality she has experienced personally.

“I used to allow the judging and negative opinions of others concerning my autistic son really affect me,” she said. “I almost let their judging me and how I handled them keep me from even taking my son to the grocery store or anywhere out in public, for that matter. As the years have passed, I have learned to let it go, because the public is not educated enough about the disorder.”

 

But although she wants to spread awareness to make sure others are better informed about autism, “our efforts to spread awareness are most importantly for those families who don’t know where to turn to get help for their child and family,” she said. “We want to let them know that we have been where they are, and that we can send them in the right direction to find the help they need.

April 7 is the deadline to register in advance for the 5K (at walkforautismal.com); however, participants for the run and the walk may also sign up the day of the event at check-in, although they will not receive a T-shirt.

Advanced registration can also be mailed in; request a hard-copy by emailing jmhamilton_30@hotmail.com or calling 662-231-5763 or 256-810-9307.

As part of the event, there will also be a bounce house and arts and crafts for children. Deadline to sign up as a vendor is April 9, and vendors may register by calling 662-231-5763 or 256-810-9307. There will also be a food truck, fire truck and police car.

“We want people to come out and enjoy the day with us, even if they do not choose to walk or run,” Hamilton said. “They can shop at our vendors booths and get autism aware.”

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