Crossroads group lights up DeLeon plaza for autism awareness (w/video)

Bianca Montes By Bianca Montes

April 2, 2014 at 11 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2014 at 11:02 p.m.

TJ Dorsett, 3, of Port Lavaca, left, plays at a bubble-making booth at Connect 2 Autism's first Light It Up Blue event at DeLeon Plaza in Victoria.

TJ Dorsett, 3, of Port Lavaca, left, plays at a bubble-making booth at Connect 2 Autism's first Light It Up Blue event at DeLeon Plaza in Victoria.

Angel Martinez, 10, said he wishes other children his age had a better understanding of autism.

At school, he said, a lot of his classmates make fun of children afflicted with the disorder, and it hurts him because his 4-year-old nephew was diagnosed last October.

"I don't think it's fair they're made fun of," he said. "They are just like us."

Angel joined about 100 other families in the community Wednesday at DeLeon Plaza to raise awareness about the disorder that affects one in 68 children by lighting the plaza blue.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Wednesday was World Autism Awareness Day.

The event, Light It Up Blue, was a first of its kind for Connect 2 Autism, an area support group founded by Kimberly Rickman.

Rickman's 15-year-old son was diagnosed with autism about a decade ago, at a time, Rickman said community support was lacking.

"I thought I was the only one in this town whose son had autism," she said. "I felt alone - it was the worst feeling you can ever experience - and I'm doing this because I don't want anyone to ever feel like I felt."

Rickman formed Connect 2 Autism three months ago to create a place for families to come together and support each other.

Live music, games and information booths circled the gazebo at DeLeon Plaza.

Building Kids Steps, a pediatric therapy center in Victoria, set up game booths to entertain the children and a live disc jockey spun music. Rickman's son, Steven, co-hosted the event.

"I'm a person," Steven said. "Autism is part of me. Not all of me."

Steven told the crowd that sometimes pictures are easier for him to understand and some sounds bother him.

According to the website, the spectrum can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties with motor coordination and attention. Health issues, such as sleep, can also be affected.

Melissa Martinez, 30, of Port Lavaca, said when her son began to have uncontrollable fits, delayed speech and was extremely hyper, she had suspicions that he was autistic.

"It was traumatic," she said. "But getting him diagnosed was the best thing that could have happened for us.

"It opened a new world."

Martinez said joining support groups such as Connect 2 Autism helped her learn a lot about her son and autism.

"I learned to be patient with him," she said, and her son now has a group of other children to play with. "I learned that I'm not on my own."

Rickman said she plans to continue with Light It Up Blue every year.

"I just want to do what I can to help educate people about autism," she said. "Because, when you educate people, you empower them to become advocates for children like my son."



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