September 20, 2006

Racing for Autism Awareness

Kim Covell first noticed that something wasn't quite right when her son, Dylan, was three years old. Although he was not officially diagnosed until he was six, Covell could tell that her little boy was developing differently than her first son had.

"I knew something was up," she said. "Finally, a neighbor told me that I needed to get him evaluated."

Dylan was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and was placed in an early intervention program within two weeks.

Covell related that it is not easy, at first, to determine that a child has autism spectrum disorder. She said her husband, Tim Motz, describes the condition best: "He says that children with autism are like snowflakes. Everyone is different. They all have a different mix of behaviors and 'symptoms' which makes up their position on the spectrum."

Today, Dylan is eight years old and surrounded by the love and support of his parents and siblings.

"We're lucky," said Covell. "We're close. Our family is tight, and we can talk about it."

She has organized the first-ever Flying Point 10K for Autism Awareness, to be hosted by WB11 News at Ten anchorman Jim Watkins and held on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at Flying Point Beach in Water Mill.

The race will benefit the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities, an organization that Covell credits for helping her family immensely.

Watkins, slated to host what Covell hopes will be an annual event, and his wife, Lauren Thierry, also have an autistic child; Thierry produced a short film entitled Autism Every Day.

Covell organized the event for September so that it would fall close to Dylan's birthday on September 29, as a tribute to her little boy. "I started this race because, like so many others, autism is part of my everyday life and the lives of every member of my family," said Covell. "I've been truly awed by how many people have pitched in to help. It just goes to show how many people are affected by autism in one way or another."

The numbers reflect a growing concern: One in 166 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism, more than those diagnosed with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.

Other support for the event has come from New York Senator Charles Schumer, local volunteers and runners, artist Michael Ferran, who created a sculpture to be presented to a special recipient at the race, as well as a plethora of sponsors.

Covell has encouraged runners to indicate how autism has touched their lives so their experiences can be shared at the race. Her goal is to spotlight a disorder that's touched countless lives. "Autism has become much more of a household name. It's very difficult to talk to anyone without them saying, 'My nephew, my grandchild, my child, has autism.' There's always someone in their life that's affected."

But "There's still so much more to do. Funding does not keep up with the rates of autism incidences," she said.

And it's a problem that will only grow exponentially. "These children are going to need services for a long time," she said. "I don't think people realize the impact this is going to have, when these children aren't in the public school system anymore and still need care."

To register online, go to www.flyingpointrun.com. To register in person: Registration will be open the day of the race beginning at 8 a.m.

For more information on autism, go to Autismspeaks.org.

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