Take a step towards building a more autism-friendly Australia

Walk for Autism this May. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

To raise awareness and foster acceptance for the challenges faced by Autistic individuals, thousands of Australians are lacing up their shoes for the annual ‘Walk for autism’ campaign.

Organised by Aspect, Australia’s largest autism-specific service provider, this event has become a cornerstone in the fight for autism acceptance and understanding.

Now in its ninth year, the ‘Walk for autism’ campaign has garnered significant attention and support, raising over $7.7 million since its inception. The funds raised are directed towards supporting the estimated 1 in 40 Australians on the autism spectrum.

Dr Vicki Gibbs, Head of Research at Aspect said Walk for autism is a highlight on Aspect’s calendar and a wonderful chance to create positive change.

“Knowing thousands of Australians are walking 7k steps a day during May, and dedicating each step to an Autistic person in their life or community, is inspiring and heart-warming,” Dr Gibbs said.

“This year our campaign is highlighting the fact that about 70 per cent of autistic people experience mental health issues and that living in a world that is not autism-friendly can cause or exacerbate mental health problems. 

 “We know the world is not autism-friendly and we are working hard to change this, particularly through education, as understanding fosters empathy and acceptance.

 “Our Autism Friendly Team works with organisations nationwide to conduct sensory assessments, providing advice on how to improve accessibility and inclusion for Autistic people in a wide range of environments including workplaces, public spaces, events and venues.”

By signing up to Walk for autism Australians will help deliver services that support Autistic people to live their best life, and help create autism-friendly environments where they feel welcomed and understood.

 Katherine Payne and her son Callen, who was diagnosed Autistic just before his second birthday, are passionate advocates for an autism-friendly world.

“Raising a child on the autism spectrum is magical, exhausting and relentless,” Ms Payne said.

“We had no experience of autism before Callen’s diagnosis, and we felt like experienced parents with three children already, but Callen’s diagnosis changed everything, how we operate and what we do as a family.

 “Thanks to a lot of hard work and specialist therapies, Callen, almost nine, is doing well, but there are daily trials that our family works through together, particularly around routines and sensory challenges.”

Katherine and her family use Walk for autism to help educate friends and the wider community about autism in a bid to improve understanding and acceptance. 

“Our participation in Walk for autism provides an opportunity to share information and break common stereotypes, which I think is essential to help improve the quality of life for our Autistic community,” said Ms Payne.

“My hope for Callen is that he’s happy. And to be happy, he needs to be understood, feel safe, be part of a community and participate in society in a way that works for him.”  

Research indicates that early diagnosis and support are crucial in reducing the likelihood of developing secondary mental health problems later in life. By participating in Walk for autism, individuals contribute to creating a more supportive environment for Autistic individuals and their families.

Participants have the flexibility to choose their level of involvement, whether walking 7k steps a day for a week, a fortnight, or the entire month of May. The decentralised nature of the event allows participants to walk anywhere, at any time, making it accessible to all.

“By signing up to walk you’ll be advocating for an autism-friendly Australia. We welcome Autistic people and their family, friends and workmates to register along with the brilliant individuals and workplaces that step out for this fantastic initiative,” Dr Gibbs said.

To register or support Walk for autism, visit www.walkforautism.org.au and take a step towards building a more autism-friendly Australia.