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Region & State

Volunteer Walkers Hope Money for Autism Research Follows

A fundraiser at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim draws more than 1,000 seeking to fight the children's disease.

August 30, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

More than 1,000 people marched around Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond on Sunday morning to raise awareness and money for autism research, a sign of the rising prevalence of the disease affecting young children.

The 5-kilometer walk was sponsored by Cure Autism Now, a nonprofit organization that will organize walks throughout the country this year for the first time.

"AIDS became popular. Breast cancer became popular, and more money went to research," said Simon Jones, 36, who came with a small troupe of friends and family in support of his son, Dylan, 4, who is autistic. "If this is a popular cause, which it seems to be becoming, more research and money follows that."

Autism is a severe developmental disorder in which children seem isolated from the world. There is a broad spectrum of symptoms, but most with it have trouble speaking, playing with other children and following instructions.

More than 4,500 people attended the second Walk Now Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in April, raising $700,000. Sunday's walk was the first in Orange County and will be followed by events in cities including Honolulu, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Houston. The walks are expected to raise a total of $3 million, said Peter Bell, the organization's chief executive.

Bell said that 10 years ago, one in every 2,500 children was diagnosed as autistic but that now it's one in 166.

"We have an epidemic of autism," he said. "It is a national emergency. We need to raise awareness and support parents."

James A. Fleming, superintendent of the Capistrano Unified School District, addressed event participants inside the Pond before they walked around the building three times. Fleming said everyone needs to press the federal government for increased funding to school districts to help students afflicted with autism.

In 1996, 18 students in his 50,000-student district were diagnosed with autism; in 2004, the number was 461, he said.

"We need to find a cure, and we need to find it now, and we need to find help, and we need to do it together."

Tamara Adams, 30, learned six weeks ago that her 3-year-old daughter was autistic and came for support as she walked with a triple stroller. Her twin 18-month-old daughters are being tested because autism often runs in families.

"I thought she was just a quirky kid," Adams said. "It is a heartbreaking experience to be part of this. When you think of having children, you do not think of this."

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