COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Thousands of people spent their Sunday at the Columbus Commons participating in the Autism Speaks Walk, showing their support to the autism community.

Last year, the pandemic forced the walk to be held virtually. This year, close to 3,000 people attended the event in person while others participated virtually.

“We’re so excited to be back together this year,” said Sheri Weithman, director of Field Development for Autism Speaks.

She said people – parents and children – needed the event to happen this year.

One mother, Heather Teegarden, said the walk is a place where her daughter can be herself in a place that feels safe while bringing the girl joy.

“They’ve been locked up and cooped up, especially for Justice, it’s been hard,” Teegarden said.

She says though she’s a returning mother, she always has new questions regarding her daughter. She says she also comes to help new parents.

“You just have to be there to support them. I think that’s what Autism Speaks here in Columbus does. Although I’m here to support her and our family members, we’re all a big family,” she said.

The event is open to anyone, including Madison Pugh, whose grandson, Jayce Pasquel, is autistic. He better wants to understand the community as well as his grandson.

“We’re here to support our grandson, Jayce Pasquel,” Pugh said.

Though he’s only 2, Pugh said he wants to make sure he is there for Jayce in the best way he can be.

“He’s a great kid,” Pugh said. “He’s very intuitive. He’s still got some challenges. He doesn’t communicate well.”

Seeing Sunday’s turnout let Pugh know he’s not alone. There are more parents out there looking for help and guidance through this journey.

“If there’s anything else we can do, we’ll be there to help,” Pugh said.

One of the goals of the event is to raise awareness, encouraging participants to ask questions about what they might not understand about autism, whether that’s for new parents and family members, or experienced parents.

“We’re just out here supporting Lola, our daughter, 3-years-old,” said Carlos Castaneda. “She has autism and was diagnosed last year. We want to be a part of it and see what kind of information we can gain from this.”

For more on how the community can get involved, click here for the Autism Speaks website.