Diego Ortiz and friends celebrate during Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism. Courtesy photo.

Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism continues to unite both families and neighbors to bring awareness and support to those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder suffered by one in 68 children. For the first time, the 2014 walk became one of San Antonio’s 110 official Fiesta events, drawing in a total of 10,000 participants.

ASD can cause difficulties in social interactions, verbal communication and repetitive behaviors. The disorder—five times more common among boys than girls—is diagnosed in children primarily between the ages of 2 and 3 years old. Participation in and in support of the walk allows Any Baby Can to provide over 100 free child and adult resources that include counseling, parent training, case management, and health and wellness.

Any Baby Can strives to enhance the lives of those living with ASD and their families, like that of Diego Ortiz, who was diagnosed with autism nine months ago.  During this year’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism, Diego’s team of supporters won the title of “Largest Team” as well as “Most Creative Team T-shirt.” Here, his mother Sandra Ortiz details their personal account:

This year was our first year to walk together as a family, and as team, in the annual Walk for Autism.  We had been to smaller walks to support friends, but never in San Antonio, and those did not mean to us what this walk, this year, did.  You see, our son Diego was diagnosed with autism only 9 months ago.  Since he was very little, we always knew he was different.  We had challenges, but we were first time parents and didn’t know that other families did not share in our challenges. 

Diego Ortiz smiles for the camera during Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism. Courtesy photo.
Diego Ortiz smiles for the camera during Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism. Courtesy photo.

As Diego grew older the differences were more evident. For several years he was misdiagnosed . . . Sensory Processing Disorder, Severe Anxiety, OCD, ADHD, but it still didn’t make sense to us. In August of this past year, he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. Although it was difficult to hear this diagnosis, it was also a sort of relief because with this diagnosis came better care and understanding of what he needs. For once, the pieces were starting to fit together for our family.

We first heard of Any Baby Can when my husband and I attended an Autism Conference in the fall. Two of the presenters in the training were from Any Baby Can. We were so excited to hear that there was help in San Antonio for our family.  

Everything was new and, truthfully, a bit overwhelming at that point.  When we returned home to SA, we called ABC and were so surprised by the help that was offered to us. We started attending parenting classes and soaked in as much information and help that we could.  Any Baby Can helped open doors to resources and services for our family that we did not know existed.  We have been fortunate to have Any Baby Can’s help in guiding us on this path, providing resources, advice and teaching us the best ways to help Diego be happy and successful.  

When we heard of the Walk for Autism, we decided as a family that this was our way to help give back and help other families just like ours. It was also our time to let our family and friends know about Diego and this new diagnosis. You see, although loving family and friends has always surrounded us, we had not yet shared with many about his autism. Anyone who knows Diego knows what a charming, smart and kind boy he is and what an amazing future he has in store for him. 

We have decided that autism will never change any of that. Our promise, as his parents, is to always help him show the world how great he truly is. We are proud to say that our family is learning how to live an awesome life with autism. We are thankful for organizations like Any Baby Can who are helping our family learn so much about Diego and the world around him. The Walk gave us a chance to share this with our family and friends and ask them to join in sharing awareness as well. 

Diego Ortiz smiles for the camera during Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism. Courtesy photo.
Diego Ortiz smiles for the camera with his award during Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism. Courtesy photo.

We sent emails, posted on social media and talked to anyone who would listen to us about what Any Baby Can has done for us and is doing for others. We were able to pass our original goal of raising $500 by almost 4 times that! We sold team t-shirts that Diego helped design. We sold a total of 77 t-shirts that proudly displayed our team motto of “Living AWESOME with Autism.”

Friends and family posted pictures of them in different parts of the country wearing Diego’s shirt and we felt so loved in supported in this journey. However, that would not compare to how we felt the morning of the walk.

 As parents, we were blown away by how many people were there that had walked in very similar shoes as ours. To see the community response and the response from our family and friends helped us realize just how very supported we are and that was truly comforting and encouraging. We realized that we were not alone in this journey. There are many of us trying to figure out this crazy thing called autism. Diego was excited to see so many friends wearing his red shirts and all there to support and cheer him on. The smile on his face, all day long, was priceless and we will never forget those moments. It was a great family day and we can’t wait to do it again next year.

More than $110,000 was raised at this year’s Walk for Autism. Every dollar goes back to providing free services for families raising individuals with special needs. In addition, Camino de Esperanza raised over $5,000 with the puzzle piece auction, a silent auction that featured works of art donated by artists from all over the world.

Many thanks go to the Walk for Autism sponsors and partners for all their help to make Any Baby Can’s 10th Annual Walk for Autism such a success, a full list can be found here.

Any Baby Can works diligently to ensure that those diagnosed with ASD are not alone. The focus is to create awareness within the community that support exists, so that comfort comes in knowing that others face the same challenges and blessings. Ultimately, the goal is to make them feel like they are not alone.

For more than 30 years, Any Baby Can has provided many of services to families with children facing serious health or developmental challenges. For more information, visit www.anybabycansa.org or call 210-227-0170.

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Monica Cuevas is a freelance public relations writer. She has formerly worked for The CE Group, Inc., and Bromley Communications where she worked with clients such as Susan G. Komen, National Pork Board...