By Rose Luna
Killeen Daily Herald
Eight-year-old Kolby Hobson lived out a dream that most adults can only fantasize about. He had his very own carnival on Saturday at the Killeen Community Center.
The carnival was orchestrated by Killeen High School senior Katy Hobson, Kolby's aunt, who worked hard for five months to put together a carnival to benefit Autism Speaks, an organization that funds autism research. The carnival catered to students with disabilities, specifically autistic children like Kolby.
The idea of putting on a carnival for elementary special education students and their families blossomed through Hobson's Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, senior project.
"I wanted to learn more about autism, not only because of Kolby ... I want to be a special education teacher," Katy said.
Autism is a complex developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
According to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every 150 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.
Through her research, Katy realized an autistic child cannot enjoy the whimsical environment of a normal carnival or theme park.
"Places like Six Flags are a sensation overload for Kolby," said Kolby's dad, Kris Hobson.
The carnival "is a great opportunity for kids to enjoy this kind of environment. It's conducive to their needs, and really geared towards families to come out and have fun."
The carnival environment catered to children with autism by having simple, yet enjoyable activities like face painting, ball toss, fishing ponds and a petting zoo from the Killeen High School FFA.
Katy solicited prize money from local businesses like Toyota of Killeen, H-E-B and Wal-Mart, and accepted donations from teachers and parents.
"I'm real impressed and proud of her," said Kris about his sister's project. "She really took the ball and ran with it."
Kolby was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old, when his parents noticed a difference in development between Kolby and his younger sister. Through rigorous therapy, he has greatly improved his motor skills and verbal skills.
But Kris won't take full credit for Kolby's progress.
"Both of my parents are special education teachers, so we were real fortunate," said Kris, an assistant principal at KHS. "We moved back to Killeen because of their special education services.
They have wonderful teachers who work hard with speech development and motor skills."
Kris hopes to see Kolby's Carnival turn into an annual event to support autism research in Central Texas.
"There's a walk in Round Rock, but I think this really fills the void for our area," Kris said. "Maybe another student can do it next year, or maybe this will evolve into something bigger.
It allows us to give back and champion a cause."
Contact Rose Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 501-7469