Students, community unite in annual run-walk for autism awareness Saturday morning

Xuantong Wang/Staff

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More than 100 students and community members united for autism awareness Saturday morning, dispersing across campus in the third annual run-walk to raise money for the cause.

Hosted by UC Berkeley’s Autism Speaks U and Theta Delta Chi, the 5,000 meter run-3,000 meter walk was the culmination of a series of efforts to promote National Autism Awareness Month. Earlier last week, Autism Speaks U distributed free blue books and balloons on Sproul Plaza. On April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, International House and the Claremont Hotel were lit up blue, the color used to promote autism awareness.

The event began at Kroeber Plaza and consisted of paths looping around campus and finishing at Memorial Glade. A few autism-related facts were scattered along the route, and participants were awarded prizes at the end of the race based on how much information they retained.

So far, Autism Speaks U has raised more than $12,000 from this year’s race and in the past three years has cumulatively raised more than $40,000 dollars with this event. According to club president Tanvi Tandan, this money goes toward research and therapy for those with autism. Tandan added, however, that fundraising was not the only goal of the event.

“It’s not just about the run and money,” Tandan said. “It’s about raising awareness and sensitivity on campus.”

According to a recently released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 U.S. children are affected by autism, a roughly 30 percent increase from estimates two years ago.

UC Berkeley senior Caroline McCloskey, who, inspired by her autistic brother, co-founded Autism Speaks U at UC Berkeley, said it was important to make the campus more welcoming for those on the autistic spectrum.
“Autism is an often-misunderstood disorder,” McCloskey said. “As we shine a light on this, we can develop a greater understanding, and with that comes compassion.”

Over the past three years, Autism Speaks U has worked alongside the Disabled Students’ Program to establish a supportive, understanding and accepting community for autistic students.

The event also included performances from campus a cappella groups Artists in Resonance and California Golden Overtones, who came out to support the cause.

Artists in Resonance singer and freshman Madi Wackerman, who has a cousin with the disorder and volunteers to help youth with autism and other disabilities, said the event was a good way to educate people about autism and the special needs community.

“Many are blinded by the disability and don’t see the capabilities and special, unique talents that people with autism have,” Wackerman said. “(They) don’t see what people with autism can do, because they’re so focused on what they can’t do.”

Contact Kathleen Tierney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @kathleentierney.