By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
"Different, not less" was the phrase printed on the blue T-shirts worn by the Manns family as they walked proudly around the walking path of Lions Club Park Monday evening.
The family of five was just a fragment of the more than 200 people who turned out for the Light it up Blue Autism Awareness Walk held in honor of Monday's being World Autism Day. In addition, April has been designated Autism Awareness Month
"He's not mean or weird; he's different and special in his own way," said Jaythen Manns, 10, of his 4-year-old brother, Jayian, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder last year.
"Today is a very special day to honor them and not to make fun of them," said Jaythen.
Jessica Manns, the boys' mother, said she was surprised by the turnout for the event and hopes it raises awareness within the community.
"It's affecting a lot more families than the community knows," she said.
The walk was organized by parents of autistic children in the area with the goal to educate, inspire and get everyone in the community involved, said Valerie Hughes, event coordinator. The color blue, she said, is part of the national campaign by Autism Speaks, the advocacy group for the disorder.
"It's not just an awareness month; it's an action month," she said.
New statistics released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in 88 Americans is diagnosed along the spectrum, and Hughes said this shows people are starting to take notice.
"Something is doing this to our children," she said. "No two kids are alike. Some are severe and some are geniuses, but they all need some type of help."
Representatives from two local applied behavior analysis therapy centers were also at the walk to provide information to families.
Anna Glaser, executive director of the ABA Center for Excellence, said events like this lets the families dealing with autism get out and have some fun.
"A lot of our families don't go out in public because they are afraid of behavior problems," said Glaser. "I think that our biggest focus is that our families should go out and have fun and have some access to their community."
While Hughes hoped to raise awareness about autism, she said all the work and preparation was done for one simple reason.
"We are just parents who love our kids."
If you're interested
For more information about autism spectrum disorder, go to www.autismspeaks.org.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.