More than 10,00 people showed up in a sea of blue at Columbus Commons on Sunday and walked through the streets of downtown Columbus to raise awareness and money for research on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
For families here at the event it was a sense of community. An estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism.
“I’ve been here for every walk and it is like a family reunion the fact that all these people show up year after year and they’re here not only to enjoy themselves and enjoy the day but they’re here looking for support,” said NBC4 Sports Director and Autism Speaks committee member Jerod Smalley.
Both his sons have autism and if it’s one message Smalley has for those affected by autism, it’s that we’re all in this together.
“They’re not alone in this that they have great people around them not only their family, their friends the folks who work specifically to help people with autism. Their incredible patience and understanding and trust in these kids and these adults,” Smalley said.
Those great people aren’t just limited to family members or medical providers — they’re often like Sasha Tutstone, a 4th-grade teacher who works with a 9-year-old boy named Jailen Stewart, who has autism.
“He’s grown so much socially,” Tutstone said. “He likes the street signs and the roads and he’s been into movement and dancing in the classroom.”
Jailen’s mom Martha says her son was diagnosed with autism when he was 3-years-old.
“It was shocking at first. I didn’t want to get him tested because I was in denial, but I had a coworker to tell me just hey get it done and if he’s autistic you can get him the therapy he needed so I did,” Stewart said. “I’m very happy that I went ahead and got him tested because then he got the therapy and he’s doing a lot better.”
The annual Columbus Autism Speaks walk is one of the largest walks in the country. Each dollar raised goes toward research and promoting awareness of the disorder. And for those for whom autism is a personal issue, the number of people who come out to support the walk is a great comfort.
“It just amazes me of how much support that it is out there for kids with autism,” Stewart said.
“From where we were 11 years ago to now, it’s mind blowing, it’s truly inspirational,” Smalley said. “Every kid with autism is unique. No two are the exact same and my two boys are a perfect example at that. They have vastly different abilities and needs so my goals are different for them, but the biggest goal, not only for them but every kid with autism, is to become an adult that has a fulfilling life.”
To learn more about Autism Speaks or to donate visit –