Columbia hosts second annual Autism Awareness Walk
COLUMBIA - Turnout for Saturday's Austim Awareness Walk at Cosmo Park doubled compared to the year before, organizers said.
The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorder, along with organizations including the MU School of Medicine, the Autism Speaks Undergraduate Chapter and the pre-med organization MU Future Physicians of America organized the event to educate and celebrate those with autism.
Natalie Kukulka, an MU medical student who founded the event, said she was grateful for the turnout, which had 382 people registered.
The event began with an opening ceremony and a performance by the Special Olympics Missouri Dance Squad.
Many families, children, patients and students came for fun, sensory-friendly activities like face-painting, bubbles and coloring. Zoo for You, the mobile petting zoo, brought gentle farm animals.
Some other special guests included the local firefighters and the MU Police Department. Bounce houses and bubbles flew in the air as children ran and laughed around the park.
Along with the music and food, others could also check out the educational tables for resources from organizations like Autism Speaks.
Parents like Christine Smith, the director of advancement at the Thompson Center, said she feels supported by events like these because families can share their stories with one another.
"I think parent networks and community networks for autism support, whether that's other parents or it's other health care providers or leaders in the community, it's always a very supportive thing for families affected by any disorder," said Smith, who has a child with autism.
Kukulka said she looks forward to many more walks and to continue to inspire and help others with autism in the future.
"There's something inside of me that told me I wanted to organize something for these children and see them joyous outside the clinic setting," Kukulka said.