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The WNC Run/Walk for Autism: A mother gives back

Brooks Buddy and her son, Miles

Miles Buddy was a bright yet quirky toddler. He took in information like a sponge but had trouble making eye contact and seemed to view his parents as just “objects to get his immediate needs met,” says his mother, Brooks Buddy of Asheville.

Miles was diagnosed with autism when he was 31/2 years old.

When he started preschool, his mother’s worries grew. “He wanted to interact with other children but didn’t know how. He would do things like touch other children’s hair.”

Buddy knew she needed to get help for Miles, but she didn’t know where to start.

Eight years later, she says she couldn’t have gotten through that time without the nonprofit Autism Society of North Carolina. “They were the only ones that were there for us to offer us help.”

In addition to providing direct services for individuals with autism, the Autism Society of North Carolina employs parent advocates in regional offices throughout the state to support families. Jean Alvarez, one of the Asheville area parent advocates, helped Buddy find services in a system that she says is “like a foreign language.”

“She gave me the motivation to make the hundreds of phone calls I needed to make,” said Buddy, who now has three children and is a recreational therapist in a nursing home.

With Alvarez’s help, Buddy got Miles into applied behavior analysis funded by the state for a year. “I think that’s why he’s functional today,” she said.

Autism Society staff members have also given presentations in Miles’ class about autism for two years in a row, helping his classmates understand his challenges. Buddy says she has learned a lot herself by attending the organization’s local workshops on topics such as Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), and Alvarez has been a shoulder to lean on. “I call Jean two or three times a year just to talk. She’s always willing to listen.”

Wanting to give back in some way, Buddy decided eight years ago to start participating in the Autism Society’s Western North Carolina Run/Walk for Autism, this year set for 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 14.

“ASNC has been a constant support, not only for Miles, but also for our family,” she said. “Being a parent of a child with autism adds another layer of stress that parents of neurotypical kids just can’t comprehend.”

Buddy raises money beyond her own registration fee for the 5K by asking friends and family for donations. Last year’s race, with more than 500 participants, raised more than $45,000 for the Autism Society. She also just enjoys the day, seeing friends out at the festival that has grown up around the event with refreshments, vendors, and children’s activities.

The race course at UNC-Asheville is “convenient, challenging, and fun,” Buddy said. The 5K is part of the Asheville Track Club Grand Prix Series, is USATF-certified, and can serve as a training run for the upcoming Asheville Citizen-Times Marathon.

“I’ve always been a recreational runner, but the ASNC runs, because I was so invested in giving back in some way, shape or form, really got me going,” she said.

Now Buddy has done other races, including a full marathon and a couple of half-marathons. But the Run/Walk for Autism will always be the most important to her, she said, because it raises awareness and money for people in North Carolina with autism, like her son.

“My son is very bright, does well in school and excels in music and science, yet he will always need help in navigating the world,” Buddy said. “ASNC will be there for him.”

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The Autism Society of North Carolina will hold its 8th annual WNC Run/Walk for Autism at UNC-Asheville from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Sept. 14. The race is part of the Asheville Track Club Grand Prix Series and is USATF-certified. It includes a challenging 5K race, a 5K noncompetitive run, and a recreational 1K run/walk. The event will also feature a family-friendly festival with a fun zone, refreshments, and vendor space where businesses, service providers, local support resources, and sponsors will be showcased.

Visit or call 828-236-1547 to register, join a team, form a team, sponsor, donate, or volunteer. For more information about the Autism Society of North Carolina, visit

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