Bellevue College student Kevin May was given the opportunity to wear different hats during the annual of Autism Day WA celebration Aug. 11 at Jubilee Farm in Carnation. Literally.
Diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum as a teenager, the Issaquah resident understands the need to identify the outward signs of the disorder at a young age. Given the opportunity to interview and explore the aspects of autism as a reporter assigned to cover the annual Autism Day WA event, he was able to explore the controversy that surrounds the medical diagnosis.
Curiosity first drew the Bellevue College student toward agencies that offer advocacy for families dealing with a person on the autism spectrum.
"Advocacy is important for families to know they are not alone. Being alone is the one thing that scared me the most. I spent many hours thinking, and writing, about my efforts to fit in," May explained. "And I spent almost as much time developing ideas that could help others not feel so all alone."
May said he could relate to the words of Matt Young of the Autism Advocacy organization when he explained how the group was able to stop a billboard advertising campaign by Children’s Hospital in Seattle that called for a cure to diabetes, cancer and autism. Young said that autism is a condition that has no real cure.
"There are treatments and therapy," Young told May, "But not something that can be eliminated like a disease."
The young reporter’s curiosity next drew him to the booth that offered a different opinion where he spoke to Janelle Hall, the chapter coordinator for Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
Hall explained that her son had "recovered" from autism after being unable to speak and dealing with other symptoms for many years.
Hall told May that her son will always be on the autistic spectrum, but has recovered to the point that his symptoms are hardly detectable when he is with his siblings or interacting with other young people.
Given the choice, the TACA coordinator said her organization should probably not have used the word cure in its name. She said treatments for her son have included dietary supplements and physical therapy.
Saturday’s free day of free family-oriented activities at the farm was established in 2001 by Sammamish resident Lynne Banki.
Almost 500 people attended the 13th annual event. This year the event included vendors and support organizations that specialize in services for teens and adults on the spectrum.
Autism Day WA this year also included a live demonstration by savant artist Michael Tolleson who painted a 24 x 36 acrylic painting in less than 25 minutes from the center stage gazebo. Tolleson donated the proceeds from the sale of his paintings and prints during the event to organizations that specialize in the treatment of young people with autism.
Tolleson told the crowd that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as an adult.
The young reporter ended his day with a renewed respect for the agencies and organizations available for families dealing with somebody who has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum.
May was pleased with the number of services available to families, but disappointed that so many of the providers seemed to be more concerned with profit than actual results.
May has learned how he naturally attempts to draw similarities to his own life in order to better understand the challenges that other people deal with on a daily basis.
"It is so important for families and individuals to know they are not alone with their struggle," said May. "People do not want to be singled out. They need to be recognized and appreciated."
More information about Autism Day WA and being involved in next year’s event is available at www.AutismDayWA.org.