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Hundreds walk in Toledo to support autism awareness, research

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    Ana-Rose Dudek, 2, of Toledo, and Cat Trick in the Huntington Center before the walk.

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    A silent cheer of blue pompoms to celebrate the Autism Speaks Walk, shortly before the walk begins.

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    The countdown to the start of the Autism Speaks Walk, inside the Huntington Center. Sponsored by Alpha Chi Delta, the event is part of the world's largest fundraising event to enhance the lives of people with autism today.

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    Dan Cummins, of WTOL, with opening remarks before the walk.

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    Volunteer Calee Reynolds, a University of Toledo student and member of Alpha Xi Delta, cheering the walkers on the concourse.

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    Walkers on the concourse of the Huntington Center.

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    Raidyn Head, of Toledo, greeting Star Wars friends who were at the event.

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    Walkers on the concourse of the Huntington Center.

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    Liam Hoge, 5, with a sign celebrating his brother, Ash, on the concourse of the Huntington Center. They live in Perrysburg.

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    Brittany Mason, of Wauseon, left and sporting a tattoo, Agiving teh silent cheer of blue pompoms to celebrate the Autism Speaks Walk. She is an aunt of Malachi Mason.

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    Edward Zaborski gives a ride to an already sleepy Ethan, Zaborski, before the walk. They live in Toledo.

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    Malachi Mason, 11, left, building an airplane with help from his aunt, Heather Wettle, of Whitehouse.

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    David Webster, left, secures the "Team Captain" pin to Jayme Knopp after they signed in for the walk. They live in Port Clinton.

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    Malachi Mason, 11, left, building an airplane with help from his aunt, Heather Wettle, of Whitehouse.

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    Malachi Mason, 11, center, building an airplane with help from his uncle Brent Wettle, left, and aunt, Heather Wettle, both of Whitehouse, right.

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Michelle Head designed special shirts for her family to wear to Toledo’s second annual Autism Speaks Walk.

Block letters on the back spelled out “Raidyn’s Rascals” in honor of her 6-year-old son. On the front was a Dr. Seuss quote: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Mrs. Head said she picked that quote because it most accurately represents her son’s situation.

“You can’t change into what other people want you to be,” she said. “That’s not how you were born. You were born to be yourself.”

As the walk began Sunday morning at the Huntington Center downtown, Raidyn smiled wide and shouted with excitement, waiving a blue pompom. He and 10 family members joined hundreds who showed up to walk in support of family, friends, and caregivers impacted by autism and to raise money for autism research.

VIDEO: Autism Speaks Walk, sponsored by Alpha Chi Delta

“This is pretty exciting,” Mrs. Head said as she surveyed the crowd. “It makes you feel not alone.”

Autism Speaks is a national advocacy and research organization that aims to bring awareness, acceptance, and understanding about autism across the globe. Its annual walks are the largest fund-raisers for the organization, said Leslie Bloom, Autism Speaks’ field development manager for northern Ohio.

On Sunday morning the walk had raised $44,000 of Autism Speaks’ $67,000 Toledo-area fund-raising goal, but more donations were being counted during the walk and teams and individuals have until the end of the year to raise funds.

And while the fund-raising is critical to helping the organization provide services to the autism community and to pay for research, the walk also helps connect people to local resources and service providers. An informational table provided fact-sheets about Autism Speaks’ research and advocacy work, as well as resources for parents or grandparents who may have questions about sending their child with autism to school or helping them transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Ms. Bloom, who is based in Cleveland, said she was excited to bring a walk to Toledo for the second year in a row to help people connect.

“We’re really trying to get our information, our resources into this community so that they know what we have available for them,” she said.

Dan Cummins, news and sports anchor for WTOL-TV, Channel 11, was the event’s keynote speaker. He proudly wore a T-shirt that said “I love my daughter with autism” as a shout-out to his 31-year-old daughter.

“I get invited to emcee events all the time, and every once in a while one strikes home,” he said. “There are so many people touched by autism now. When you come to events like this, everybody realizes we are not alone. I see people I know and didn’t know they have a child with autism. We’re all connected by that.”

Ms. Bloom described the walk as a celebration of what is an increasingly large support network. Last year’s inaugural walk brought a crowd of about 600, and even with rain that kept the walk inside this year she estimated about 800 or so showed up on Sunday.

Toledoan Idelisse Rivera helped organize about 25 of her friends and family to form Team Latino to raise money and walk for a cause close to her heart.

“We have to support our friends and family,” she said. “I think this is so important for the whole autism community.”

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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