On a rainy Saturday afternoon, the atrium of Georgia Perimeter College's Newton campus building was filled with the happy cacophony of children laughing, drums banging, music playing and the occasional burst balloon during the first Walk for Autism to raise money for autism advocacy, treatment and research.
The walk was a satellite event for next Saturday's Georgia Walk for Autism, an event in Atlanta to raise money for Autism Speaks and the Marcus Institute, a facility to diagnose and treat children with neurological disabilities.
Having the walk at a closer location gave local families that might not be able to make it all the way out to Atlantic Station a chance to participate, said organizer Polly Bouker, who teaches geology at GPC. Bouker's 9-year-old son has autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, and Saturday's event was to raise money for the team they'll be entering in the April 12 walk.
She also wanted to hold the event to give families with children with autism something to do and a safe place to have fun.
"There aren't very many resources for our kids," she said. "When you have a kid with special needs, you worry about what they're going to do, are people going to be looking at them."
ASD is a group of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interaction, and is more likely to occur in boys. In Georgia, about one in every 131 children is diagnosed with ASD, compared to one in 150 nationally, said Catie Currey, regional director of Autism Speaks.
Bouker said she was pleased with the turnout of about 75 to 100 people.
"You never know when you invite the public. And then the rain!" she said
Although the walk itself had to be moved indoors because of the weather, there was still plenty to do for children and families alike. Booths with games and sensory stations offered children a chance to dig into clay, touch animal furs, bang drums, pet snakes, plant flowers and immerse themselves in a host of sights, textures and sounds.
Many organizations and volunteers came out to support the event. Melanie Brittain came out with Amore, a therapy Golden Retriever who visits special needs classes, schools, and hospitals. Brittain said she hoped to eventually be able to provide Golden Retrievers to homes with children with ASD.
Newton Campus Provost Sallie Paschal stopped by to see the event. "I am thrilled with the turnout," said Paschal. "This is a wonderful event. Polly Bouker has done a fabulous job."
For more information about the April 12 Georgia Walk for Autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org or call (770) 451-0570. Information on the Marcus institute can be found at www.marcus.org.