News: Autism Walk brings out supportive families
Story by Staff Sgt. Antwaun Parrish
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash – Most ribbons used to raise health awareness are a solid hue, whereas, the one used for autism awareness is colorful and has decorations of various puzzle pieces put together. April is National Autism Awareness Month and April 2 is deemed Autism Awareness Day. This year service members and families did their part to bring awareness.
The 593rd Sustainment Brigade held a one-mile Autism Awareness Walk at its headquarters to raise awareness about the disorder and provide information to families about where they can find support here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The walk took place around a field decorated with brightly colored balloons.
“I’m really impressed with how many families had the courage to come out,” said Dena Radcliffe, the event’s coordinator. “They should be applauded for their courage because of the challenges their kids have with the change from their normal routine. It’s a powerful message for them to convey.”
Dena Radcliffe and her husband Spc. Reginald Radcliffe have four children, three of them have autism. His wife led the coordination of the event since the cause was so near to her family.
“Having my first child diagnosed was scary because we had no information,” said Dena Radcliffe. “When my second child was diagnosed, that’s when we found out the risks go up when you have one child diagnosed. So we knew that by already having two kids on the spectrum that our third son would probably be diagnosed as well. When my third son was diagnosed we already saw it coming and were able to recognize the behaviors.”
Dena Radcliffe explained that when her second son was diagnosed with the disorder she found out that it’s carried through genetics. So she began to get worked up trying to figure out which side of her family carries the trait, but was calmed by her husband with encouraging words.
“My husband said at the end of the day our kids are still them even though they have their challenges,” said Dena Radcliffe. “They have some really tremendous strength and we need to focus on those. They’re still your children and even though they have some differences you just learn to adjust your expectations to accommodate those differences.”
Dena Radcliffe addressed the participants before the awareness walk began, sharing her emotional story of her family and autism. Near the end of her story she stopped to wipe away her tears before continuing.
About 150 colorful signs, with the slogan “1 in 88” were given to participants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder.
“Having this day to raise awareness is amazing,” said Dena Radcliffe. “Nationally for one day of the year most people are hearing the word autism. Just hearing a sentence about it is helping increase awareness. For one day people are going to highlight this disorder and see how it impacts our nation and across the globe.”
Sgt. 1st Class Martin Taulelei, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron 38th Cavalry Regiment, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, came to the event with his wife and three of his six sons, two of whom have Autism. Participating in these walks isn’t new to him, but the support of the community is a new experience.
“Everywhere we’re stationed, it’s common for us to check with the Army Community Services and the Exceptional Family Member Program because they normally do walks for Autism,” said Taulelei, a native of American Samoa. “When I was here eight years ago there was nothing and no one knew about autism. When my son Max was younger that’s how it was. Now he’s 14 and it seems like currently everyone knows about autism.”
As his family prepared to leave the walk and head home, Taulelei stated that he appreciates all the help he receives from the community and skill workers. He hopes that one day his children will become more independent because of their therapy.
“Me and my wife aren’t always going to be around so our overall goal is for them to be self sufficient,” said Taulelei. “I want the best for them.”
Dena Radcliffe cheered as she watched her vision unfold as the walkers crossed the finish line. She was happy to see that so many participants came. She stated that there is a tendency for Families with autistic children to isolate themselves.
“It’s hard to socialize with other families when you have kids who don’t understand social language. I wanted to create an event to bring these families together to have them meet one another and know they’re not alone here.”
Much like the puzzle pattern on the autism awareness ribbon, which represents the mystery and complexity of the disorder, the walk brought together the diverse community at JBLM and shed some light on the disorder.