By Paula Ann Solis
Through the continued partnership of the Heart of Texas Autism Network and members of the Baylor community, the sixth annual Walk for Autism will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday on Fountain Mall.
The Heart of Texas Autism Network is a non-profit organization established six years ago by a Waco support group for parents with children who have autism spectrum disorders.
The network has worked closely with Baylor, specifically the Baylor Autism Resource Center, since its formation.
For those who would like to participate in Sunday’s walk but have not yet registered, the registration form is available for download at the Heart of Texas Autism Network’s webpage, hotautismnetwork.org.
Walkers can turn in their forms from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. the day of the walk.
Fee’s are $15 for those over 18 years old, $10 for kids ages 4 to 18 and free for those under 4 years old.
“Baylor has been such a great and key partner of ours since the beginning,” said Anita Karney, walk coordinator and a member of the original parent support group.
Karney said Sunday’s walk is unlike normal walks, in that a greater emphasis will be placed on interaction rather than actual walking.
“The walk is really more of a celebration or a festival,” Karney said. “It’s a place for people to enjoy each other and celebrate the potential of and the possibilities for people with autism.”
The walk has no set distance or time, and participants are encouraged to visit the various activity booths that will be led by various Baylor organizations.
Activities will include arts and crafts for kids of all ages, interacting with visiting Angel Paws therapy dogs and an appearance by a Waco Fire Department fire truck.
Other entertainment will include live music by the Shane Howard Band, Eric Huggins and Thomas Smith UnPlugged and Diana Wilcox. Also, a Zumba instructor will offer lessons to participants an hour before the official walk begins.
During the walk, the Baylor Autism Resource Center will also be hosting its open house to share with the community the work being done with families who utilize its services, which include social skills lessons, behavioral therapy and other amenities for families affected by autism, according to Julie Ivey-Hatz, assistant professor of educational psychology and founder of Baylor’s Autism Resource Center.
All funds raised by the Walk for Autism will benefit local programs related to autism, including the Heart of Texas Autism Network, the Baylor Autism Resource Center and the Arc of McLennan County, which provides a summer camp for special needs children.
Karney said without these types of services in the Waco community, many parents of special needs children would not be able to hold full-time jobs.
“Special needs children require a specific kind of care,” Karney said. “These places have trained professionals who understand what children with autism need and they offer curriculums centered around those needs.”
Before the walk begins, the First Lady of Baylor, Alice M. Starr, will give opening remarks to participants.
Starr has been a large supporter of autism resources in Waco.
“Alice Starr has done so much to help spread the word about our services,” Ivey-Hatz said.
According to Ivey-Hatz, the Baylor Autism Resource Center plans to recognize Starr’s extraordinary efforts in the field of autism awareness at the “Celebrating Exceptionalities: Inaugural Gala” on April 27.
Karney said she invites the entire Waco community to join the Heart of Texas Autism Network on Sunday for what will be a family fun afternoon with invaluable information for everyone.