Two years ago at the 2014 Triangle Run/Walk for Autism, 7-year-old Abigail was in tears after crossing the finish line. She told her worried mother that she was sad because she didn’t win the race. Abigail’s parents explained to her that finishing first was not their goal.
The little girl with autism took the lesson to heart before the 2015 race. “She surprised me last year when we crossed the finish and she exclaimed how happy she was,” said her mother, Emily Hamilton. “She said that we are winners in this race because we can make people’s lives better.”
The Hamilton family has indeed been making people’s lives better, raising more than $2,000 in the Autism Society of North Carolina’s biggest fundraiser of the year with their team, Piece, Love and Abigail. (The team’s name is a play on the puzzle piece that often represents autism, but they also have fun by sporting tie-dye and other hippie-themed attire, Emily said.)
But to the Hamiltons, the Triangle Run/Walk for Autism is much more than a fundraiser. “It gives us a chance to be with so many others on the spectrum,” Emily said. “It is a whole day where you know there will be no judgment, just understanding. It gives all of us a chance to see representation of the entire spectrum and socialize with families just like us.
“Abigail says it is a day ‘I can just be me!’”
Unfortunately, Abigail has not always had that opportunity. Her parents noticed she was different from other kids her age when she was as young as 1 and wasn’t meeting developmental milestones, but their pediatrician advised them that she would catch up. By the time Abigail was 3, the gap was widening between her and her day-care classmates. She behaved aggressively and was sensitive to sounds, lights, and other sensations.
“She was socially withdrawn and was struggling in almost every task asked of her,” Emily said. “Her behavior seemed to be reflecting all of the inner turmoil she was dealing with. We were at a loss.”
When she was 4, Abigail was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and auditory processing disorder at UNC Hospital. Emily said their family and friends were surprised by the diagnoses. “Many people said things such as ‘But she’s a girl, they don’t have autism.’ Others said, ‘But she looks so normal.’”
Emily said this lack of understanding is another reason the family supports the Autism Society of North Carolina. This year, the family from Creedmoor started fundraising for their team early as part of Autism Awareness Month in April, and they made bracelets, lanyards, watchbands, and other items to reward those who donated. Abigail has enjoyed helping to make the bracelets, practicing her fine-motor skills, and interacting with donors, practicing her social skills. “So in a way, although we are helping the efforts of ASNC, the fundraising activities have actually helped her,” Emily said. “We have also found this to be a super way for us to have some mother-daughter time, which is so special to me!”
Abigail is now 9 and is much more successful in school. She has received speech and occupational therapy for the past three years, and her mother has relied on resources from the Autism Society of North Carolina. “I found that the information provided by ASNC was very helpful in teaching myself and others about autism and was crucial in helping Abigail at school,” Emily said. “The IEP and services information proved to be invaluable as she progressed in school. We were able to utilize many of the tools and recommendations to formulate a plan that worked at school as well as home.”
Abigail has also benefited from her service dog, a French Briard that was trained by a local group, Ry-Con Service Dogs. “Prior to getting Samson, Abby suffered from some pretty severe social anxiety. She was unable to go into public places such as restaurants and grocery stores due to sensory overload and anxiety,” Emily said. “Since Samson came along, that has all but subsided. She loves introducing Samson to people that she meets, and he keeps her calm even in the most stressful of situations.”
Samson will be by Abigail’s side at the Triangle Run/Walk for Autism, but it is not one of those stressful situations. On Oct. 8, Abigail will proudly lead her team of family and friends through downtown Raleigh, making sure to spread her message. “I’m just like everybody else, but at the same time I like being different!”
Step out to improve lives in the Triangle Run/Walk for Autism on Saturday, Oct. 8! The event in downtown Raleigh will include a USATF-certified 5K race, which is part of the Second Empire Grand-Prix Series; a 5K noncompetitive run; a recreational 1-mile run/walk; and a kids’ dash. Celebrate autism awareness and acceptance with a kids’ play area, music, refreshments, and vendor space that will showcase local businesses, service providers, support resources, and sponsors. Proceeds will fund local programs of the Autism Society of North Carolina.
Register today: www.trianglerunwalkforautism.comTags: ASNC, Asperger Syndrome, Asperger's Syndrome, autism, autism advocacy, autism awareness, autism education, autism nc, autism north carolina, autism society north carolina, autism society of NC, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, autism support, Developmental disability, North Carolina, Run/Walk for Autism, triangle run/walk for autism