Grandkids, horses, and bounce houses – Perfect setting kicked off Autism Awareness month in The Villages

Grandkids, horses, and bounce houses – Perfect setting kicked off Autism Awareness month in The Villages

This past Saturday, April 1st kicked off Autism Awareness month with a free walk at The Villages Polo Club located here in The Villages, FL.  The event was sponsored by the Tri-County Autism Community to create a space for autistic people and their families to get to know each other. For my family, it was an opportunity to spend quality time together by walking for an important cause.

Kevin, Ruth and I were joined by our two oldest grandchildren, Providence (11) and George (7). We are so fortunate they live in nearby Winter Garden and come to visit their Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Kevin frequently. When offered the chance to participate in this walk for autism on Saturday, both Providence and George eagerly accepted the challenge.

In fact, they were already well versed that April is Autism Awareness month as they described some of the conversations and events taking place at their school.

Being around our grandkids is always special. To watch how they interact and care deeply for their Uncle Kevin is heartwarming. The same goes for their two younger sisters, Rose (3) and Briana (almost 2), who are always caring and curious regarding their Uncle Kevin’s condition.

For those who follow us at KEVADVOTECH, you know our son Kevin (37) has been dealing with a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) since an accident in 2001. For many who meet Kevin for the first time, they often assume he is autistic, as some of his behaviors appear similar to those on the spectrum. So supporting autism events and raising awareness is something we embrace.

The Villages Polo grounds was a perfect venue for the Autism Walk

For anyone familiar with The Villages Polo Club (TVPC), the grounds provide a unique setting to hold outdoor events. Sprawling across nearly 200 lush acres of beautiful pasture land dotted with majestic live oaks, TVPC is a fixture within the vast surrounding community. Besides hosting Polo matches each season, there are numerous other events held including the annual hot Air Balloon Festival, outdoor concerts, occasional drive-in movies, and even outdoor weddings.

So hosting the 2nd annual Autism Awareness walk was a perfect setting. Saturday morning’s temperature was already approaching 80 degrees by 8:30am, but the gentle breeze and shaded trees provided plenty of comfort for the long walk. When offered a choice of walking 1 mile or doing a 5k (a little over 3 miles), Providence and George would accept nothing short of doing the full 5k.

Horses enjoyed themselves too

After each eating a donut (George wouldn’t stop after just one!) donated by one of the local donut shops, it was time to work off those fattening calories. It was great to see so many groups of families participating, as we all enjoyed a morning stroll through the picturesque grounds. Along the way, our grandkids stopped to pet a couple of the horses, who were eager for some affection.

Plenty of fun for the kids afterwards

Because my grandkids are always seeking to overachieve, we actually clocked out our walk at a little over 3.5 miles. We walked at an enjoyable pace and soaked in the scenery and fresh air along the way. There were bounce houses set up near the finish line, where kids could continue to burn off their never ending supply of energy.

George, of course, took full advantage of the opportunity and bounced from one playhouse to the other for at least 20 minutes afterwards. Perhaps it was that 2nd or 3rd donut he needed to burn off. Somehow my 2nd donut had quite the opposite effect, as I would have much preferred a lounge chair and a nap under one of the shady oak trees!

Autism remains prevalent

Chances are that you know someone with autism, whether directly or indirectly. Here are some statistics as cited by Autism Speaks:

  • In 2023, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 36 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to 2020 data.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
  • Most children were still being diagnosed after age 4, though autism can be reliably diagnosed as early as age 2.
  • 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70), 25% are in the borderline range (IQ 71–85), and 44% have IQ scores in the average to above average range (i.e., IQ >85).
  • Autism affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
  • Minority groups tend to be diagnosed later and less often.
  • Early intervention affords the best opportunity to support healthy development and deliver benefits across the lifespan.
  • There is no medical detection for autism.

Glaring gap in services once kids reach adulthood

Here’s a staggering statistic. Over the next decade, an estimated 707,000 to 1,116,000 teens (70,700 to 111,600 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school based autism services. While schools are more prepared today to accommodate children on the spectrum while providing opportunities to learn and grow, access to services suddenly becomes more difficult once your child is no longer school-age.

That is why raising awareness regarding autism is so important. Many families and individuals need support. I believe the more we talk about it and continue to sponsor events such as this local Autism Awareness Walk, together, we can continue to create an environment that is not only accepting, but one that provides opportunities for these individuals to live their best lives possible.

Our local community continues to support these great causes

This past Saturday’s event was just another reminder of what makes The Villages and the surrounding tri-county community a wonderful place to call home. My family appreciated the opportunity provided by the Tri-County Autism Community to participate in this year’s walk and hope you will take the time to learn more about autism and how your support can make a difference. And for those of you in and around The Villages, I encourage you to soak in the serenity and majestic beauty of The Villages Polo grounds. Whether you experience an event or simply take a morning or late afternoon stroll around the grounds, you’ll be glad you did!