When Holly Goodman lost her 3-year-old autistic son, Isaac, she said she felt rudderless. Without readily available resources for parents and children who experience autism spectrum disorder, Goodman said she knew there was a lack of help for people who have disabilities.
“Parents need to know there’s a chance. There’s a chance to help their kid, to make them feel seen,” Goodman said.
Isaac died just before he turned 4. Goodman said she wanted to focus her pain into creating the ISAAC Foundation, a Spokane nonprofit that offers educational services for people who have autism spectrum disorder.
For Goodman, who has two sons with autism, raising awareness through the Steps for Autism event offered a chance to increase visibility of people with disabilities into the community.
“Sometimes when we’re out, I’ll hear a parent say, ‘Don’t stare,’ and I appreciate that sentiment, but when you never look at us, it’s like we’re invisible,” Goodman said. “I would rather parents use it as a teaching moment to tell their kids that some people have disabilities and they’re different, but they’re still a human being.”
Children, parents and community members of all ages walked several loops of Riverfront Park on Sunday afternoon in Steps for Autism, hosted by the ISAAC Foundation, the Northwest Autism Center and the Spokane chapter of the Autism Society.
About 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
Though the event organizers faced uncertainty with the spike in COVID-19 cases in Spokane, Goodman said they were able to organize and offer kids who have autism a chance to participate in bubble-blowing, chalk-drawing and obstacle courses to stimulate them mentally and physically.
Steps for Autism had around 300 registrants and 18 volunteers, with 13 vendors who gave their time – and some donations – for the event, Goodman said.
For kids with autism, outlets for creativity and exercise can help them channel their energy, Goodman said.
With the open grassy area and various activities, Kirsten Amman said her active 19-year-old autistic son felt more comfortable.
“It’s about giving them opportunities to do new things and meet new people,” Amman said.
Amman is a board member on the Autism Society chapter in Spokane. She said these events help not only autistic children but parents who had to adjust after a diagnosis.
Rachael Leonard, a volunteer for the Autism Society, attended with her two children who are both on the autism spectrum. She said after the diagnoses, she wanted a community of people who would understand and immediately accept her kids.
“Autism so often separates people, and this event is bringing people together,” Leonard said. “Everyone gets what they want out of it. It’s beautiful, really, it’s beautiful.”
Leonard’s daughter Holly, who has autism, participated as a volunteer in Steps for Autism, entertaining participants as the Disney character of Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Holly is finishing her associate degree at Spokane Falls Community College and then plans to double-major in political science and psychology.
“I just want to use the power of my voice to make the world better. Whatever that means I don’t know yet, but that’s what I want to do,” Holly Leonard said.
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