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My Autism Ally plans all-inclusive event

Pony rides, crafts, music planned for Acceptance Walk

My Autism Ally will host an event Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Allen County Fairgrounds.

Sam Rohloff

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 31, 2022

On Sunday, Sept. 11, My Autism Ally invites you to attend the 2022 Autism Acceptance Walk.

From noon-4 p.m., the Allen County Fairgrounds, 2726 Carroll Road, will host the free event, providing a plethora of fun and inclusive activities aimed toward those with autism, including food trucks, pony rides, crafts, music play, and games. 

The walk itself gets started at 3 p.m.

Everyone, regardless of his or her connection to the autism community, is welcome. In fact, that’s highly encouraged.

Petting zoo and sensory play

According to My Autism Ally Executive Director Susan Crowell, the Autism Acceptance Walk has been hosted by numerous organizations in years past. Though Crowell has been involved in northeast Indiana autism acceptance events since 2004, this will be the first year her group will officially spearhead the walk.

My Autism Ally is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 2020 that offers assistance and direction in northern Indiana to not only those diagnosed with autism, but also to their families.

“Anyone that wants to come out and celebrate autism acceptance is more than welcome,” Crowell said of the Acceptance Walk.

A vendor fair with more than 50 autism agencies will be at the event to provide information regarding different autism services, such as case management, applied behavioral analysis centers, and other therapy resources.

A petting zoo, therapy dogs, cosplay opportunities, mascots, sensory play for building fine motor skills, and more will also be at the event.

“It’s just an all-around fun day,” Crowell said.

Any donations collected during the walk will remain in-state and support My Autism Ally in aiding individuals and families.

Noble purpose

Autism is an uncurable disorder that lasts a lifetime, Crowell said, cementing the fundamental importance her organization holds.

“A lot of people preach about autism awareness, and yes, everybody needs to be aware of autism,” she said. “Everybody knows somebody with autism. It’s now time to start talking about autism acceptance.”

A distinction lies between the two, Crowell said, and My Autism Ally strives to achieve both.

“Autism awareness is knowing that I could employ someone with autism, autism acceptance is doing it,” she said. The walk, for example, she described as “a unity lap” for this acceptance.

Crowell also said that because autism can be an isolating diagnosis due to abnormal behavior characteristics, for instance, the walk is a place for individuals with autism and their families to feel understood and not alone.

Services

“My Autism Ally is a referral service for families,” Crowell said, explaining the organization assists families in finding appropriate providers as well as inclusive and community events. All help provided by the group is free.

No matter age, gender, race, or spectrum placement, the agency vows to assist all people with autism, also going as far as to provide diagnostician referrals for those speculating the possibility of a diagnosis.

Crowell, who has been involved in disability advocacy nearly two decades, explained a big shift regarding the autism community present in northern Indiana.

“Before, it was a lack of resources, and there wasn’t a whole lot available,” she said. “Now, there is so much available that families can unknowingly get into resources and be completely unaware of other resources that are available.”

My Autism Ally aims to guide individuals through this overabundance of information by listening to and conversing with those in need and from there offering useful information and referrals that are appropriate for each person’s and family’s circumstances.

“Part of my job is asking the right questions out of those who are calling us to be able to assist them in areas that they didn’t even know to ask that question,” Crowell said.

Personal connection

Crowell’s urge to create My Autism Ally arose from a special connection with the disorder.

“I’m a parent of a child with autism,” she said. 

Her son, Matthew, who just celebrated his 21st birthday, was diagnosed in 2003.

Even the organization’s logo, a red puzzle piece in the center of a black butterfly, was inspired by her family.

“When (Matthew) first got diagnosed, it was truly like a puzzle, she said. “But autism is a part of him.” A permanent part, she added.

Crowell compared her family’s path with autism to a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly.

“It was a process that, as my son got older, he was able to emerge into the person he always was meant to be,” she said.

Everybody involved in My Autism Ally, she said, “has a personal autism journey to share,” whether that means they have a diagnosis of autism themselves or they care for someone with the disorder. This empathetic aspect of the group is one of the things that Crowell believes sets it apart from other autism agencies.

One such person on this journey is Jessica Maynard, mother to 10-year-old Amya who is on the spectrum.

Overwhelmed with the overflow of information on resources and which steps to take and when, Maynard found solace in getting involved with the walk as well as working alongside and receiving guidance from Crowell and others.

Since engaging in disability advocacy, Maynard said she wants to assist parents in advocating for their own children, too.

Furthermore, she said the Autism Acceptance Walk in particular would allow for participants to witness the wide variety of individuals that autism impacts — that is, all demographics are equally affected. This, she said, would aid in the very acceptance that My Autism Ally promotes.

“I think the biggest goal, especially in the disability community altogether, is inclusion,” Maynard said. “We want our loved ones to be accepted and included.”

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