EUGENE, Ore. — Each April during Autism Awareness Month, runners race to show support for those in the community diagnosed with autism. “Autism is really here in our community and there needs to be a lot of support and acceptance as well,” said Patricia Wigney, Bridgeway House Executive Director.
Around 300 people gathered at Alton Baker Park for the fundraiser 5K and 8K races. “Load up the kids and decided to come do a little 8K for a good cause,’ said Bill Manning, a local runner.
About half of the runners are students at the Bridgeway House and their family members. “These children effected with autism they’re absolutely brilliant. They need every chance that we can possibly give them to live a really full life because they’re very capable of it. With education and help, therapy,” said Wigney.
This year, the Bridgeway House expanded to a second location in Springfield, but even with this added space and services, the school programs are full. “There’s a great need in this community to expand our services to offer more,” said Wigney.
Between the social groups and home therapy program, the Bridgeway House serves 300 families each week. It’s a number that’s grown in past years. The Center’s for Disease Control reports autism rates in children have risen 30% in a two-year span.
“So that means one out of 68 children are being diagnosed on the spectrum. That’s huge. That’s bigger than Polio epidemic, anything that we’ve known,” said Wigney.
Wigney said these new national numbers are staggering, which is why getting the word out and increasing awareness is needed now more than ever. “The services in Lane County are phenomenal. We’re so lucky to have all of the different agencies that provide services for different autism spectrum. But with those numbers we need more. It’s an epidemic, it’s a crisis,” said Wigney.