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Families Hit the Pavement to Raise Money and Awareness at Autism Walk

Families from Westchester and the surrounding area participated in Sunday's Autism Speaks walk at the New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains.

Thousands of employees, volunteers and family members gathered at New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains to participate in Walk Now for Autism Speaks in an effort to raise something as equally important as donations: awareness.

While donations are essential to Autism Speaks’ cause, families that have members living with the autism know all too well there is information that still needs to be spread.

"People don't know how many times we're in a supermarket and (my son) will scream or make a noise, and people don't know what it is," said Errol Figueroa, whose son Danny, 12, is diagnosed with autism. "People look at him like he's misbehaving and just don't understand.”

Figueroa, his wife Heather, and their son Danny came from Carmel to walk as part of Danny’s Dream Team. The Figueroa’s were walking for the first time and raised over $2,500 for the cause.

“These kids have something to offer, they shouldn't just be thrown in the dustbin,” said Allison Walmark. “Many of them are brilliant, it's just some are socially awkward. But they shouldn't be discarded.”

The Walmark family made the trip from Westport, CT to walk for their 5-year-old son, Ethan as part of The E-Team. Ethan is diagnosed with autism, and is described by his mother as a musical prodigy. 

The Figueroas and the Walkmarks made up just a few of the more than 14,000 people who registered to walk on Sunday. With the walk, Autism Speaks hopes to hit their mark of $1.1 million in donations. As of this week, the foundation has raised over $750,000 and believes their goal is well within reach.

With the money raised, Autism Speaks is hoping the disorder can be detected in children at a much earlier age. 

“We've now come up with the tools for pediatricians to use,” said Paul Irwin-Dudek, national walk director. “So they can now start diagnosing at twelve months and at twenty-four months. We know that the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better it is for the child and the family.”

According to Christine Roithmayr, wife of Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr, 1 in 110 individuals and 1 in 64 boys are now identified with autism. "The statistics are frightening," said Roithmayr. "(They) have increased hugely over the last few years."

The two-mile walk is the tenth annual for White Plains-Fairfield and the first to take place at the hospital. Along with being a sponsor of the walk, NYPH has recently announced they will be opening the Institute for Brain Development. The institute, in partnership with the New York Center for Autism, will work with individuals living with autism spectrum disorders and other disorders of the brain. It is scheduled to open in 2012.

“We're thrilled to be here at New York Presbyterian and have the walk here, because we have funded a million dollars for their autism institute here,” said Roithmayr. “They need many other millions of dollars but we're very proud to be part of this wonderful institute that's going to be built here, that will be from diagnosis to adult services.”

Before the walk, volunteers were treated to live music, refreshments and food, while children enjoyed face painting, basketball and inflatable slides and castles.

In addition to Autism Speaks’ walks, the foundation raises money yearly with barbecues, car washes and much more (learn more about the disorder at their website).

“We just want to get people aware and get as much money as we can and hopefully one day find a cure,” said Figueroa. “That's what everybody's looking for, eventually."

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