Troy University’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) club conducted its first Autism Walk on April 4, 2017, on the main quad and raised funds for the future of autistic students.
“We’re going to use the money that we raise to form a scholarship program,” said Allison Wrape, a junior psychology major from Harvest and one of the student organizers of the event. “And then people can nominate someone who has autism to get the scholarship, and then that money would go to therapeutic services for their autism.”
The idea for the fundraiser came from the ABA’s faculty adviser and an assistant professor of psychology at Troy, Barbara Metzger, who had seen the Autism Walk’s success in person before.
“I’m from San Antonio, Texas, and when I was there, they had an Autism Walk. They had a million people show up,” Metzger said. “It was actually in the Guinness World Records as one of the largest walks ever. I thought this would be a good way to raise awareness about autism.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sites autism as a spectrum disorder, which refers to the severity of the impairment.
“What that means is that you can have a child who’s nonverbal and who has very minimal skill and all the way up to an individual who has normal cognitive, normal speech skills, and they might just be what you might call socially awkward and anything and everything in between,” Metzger said. “It varies tremendously from person to person.”
CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network found that one child in 68 is affected by autism specifically, and that every sixth child had a “developmental disability” in 2006-2008 on the spectrum from speech impairment to cerebral palsy and autism.
ABA’s Autism Walk was created to spread the awareness of autism, importance of its early diagnosis and treatment options. Student organizers gave out water bottles and informational brochures with statistics and warning signs and engaged children in games.
“I’ve had several parents say that it just meant so much to them, so I really feel like it was a good learning experience for students; it was a good learning experience for me, and it’s a good learning experience for family that they can have a sense of community,” Metzger said.
While research into the cause and cure for autism continues, ABA provides one of the few treatment options for children affected by autism.
“We look at an individual, and we figure out what they need, and then we break it down into small steps, and then we do really intensive, compressed teaching with lots and lots of rewards, and we build skills,” Metzger said about the ABA therapy. “So you take a little skill and out make it a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger.
“And we teach everything from reading and writing; we teach self-help skill like toileting or tying your shoelaces. We teach little kids how to talk or how to communicate through signs or through pictures, so it’s very comprehensive. It works. I don’t know how else to say it.”
ABA club is service based and offers its members opportunity to work with children under the guidance of Metzger at Troy Elementary school.
“The first couple of weeks it was pretty nerve-wracking because it was the first time I was working with the child, and then it turns into just hanging out with them, I guess, you know, playing games,” said Margaret Green, junior psychology major from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, and one of the ABA club members.
“For the ones that had nonverbal, we tried to teach them sounds, letters, anything to get them talking, and we would just reinforce all those things, and then for the ones with behavior problems, we would try to not reinforce those problems, try to get them to behave properly in a classroom.”
ABA’s first Autism Walk drew over 50 people, according to Wrape, to Troy University’s main quad on the warm spring Saturday.
“It was a wonderful day, and it was organized well,” said Grant Robinson, a sophomore nursing major from Birmingham. Robinson, whose mother works in counseling, said the event helped him learn more about autism, and he would attend it again.
“This is our first year, and I think this has been a learning experience for all of us, but we plan to do it each year, and hopefully each year we’ll get bigger and better and reach more people,” Metzger said. “If we just reach one family, that makes it all worth it.”