Many people would feel lucky to have a few people who were supportive in their life, but for Oxford resident Ryan Cartledge, he has several families worth, and all those people will stand by his side today, as they walk to raise awareness and funds for autism.
When Ryan, now 19, was just 5-months-old he was diagnosed with severe profound autism. His father Tim said that they knew early on something wasn't right with their son.
"We were worried that he could be blind or deaf," he said. "He did not act like a traditional baby would... Back then it was dreadful, because there were limited resources. When he was diagnosed I went to the library and the only two things I could find said that 96 percent of all children with autism would be institutionalized.”
Although Ryan was placed into therapy early on, he did start falling behind in school, which is when the family found The Marcus Institute for children with autism. Ryan is still non-verbal, but Tim said he has made amazing progress.
“When we were told, the only thing I knew about autism was from an old TV show called “St. Elsewhere” and “Rain Man,” said Tim. “Then one in every 10,000 children were diagnosed, now it's one in every 110 and in Georgia it's one in every 100. Autism is more prevalent than children's cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined and there's no cure and no early detection before birth.”
The Autism Speaks walk will help not only with awareness of the disease, but by raising funds that will go to the Marcus Institute and will also help fund research to try and find not only a cause, but a cure. Registration for the walk begins at 8 a.m. at Atlantic Station, and the walk itself starts at 10 a.m. So far $493,245 has been raised, according to the walk’s website.
“The bottom line is we don't know what causes it,” said Tim. “We don't know and we're working diligently to try and figure it out.”
Tim said that if a person doesn't live with autism they cannot fully understand it and may think a child is being unruly.
“It's a person struggling to communicate with the outside world,” he explained. “And it's challenging for parents, but my son, he lives autism 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
And Tim said while his son may be non-verbal, Ryan understands totally that when they walk, they do it for him.
“Ryan is the most pleasant child, he has the most wonderful smile, and he will disarm you in a second,” said Tim. “He walks as well and he smiles and is very happy about it because when we walk he knows it's for him.”