New autism awareness walk in Deming inspired by sister
Algernon D’Ammassa, The Deming Headlight Published 7:00 a.m. MT March 19, 2018
Walk will raise awareness and support inclusive public playground
From left, DJ Gonzales, age 4, and with older sister and advocate, Serenity, age 8.(Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Gonzales)
DEMING – At first, Crystal and Danny Gonzales thought their son might have a hearing problem.
At 18 months, DJ (short for Daniel Joseph) was not verbalizing and often did not respond when his name was called. They also noticed a tendency to play by himself without engaging others. “He was in his own world,” said his mother.
After a full evaluation, DJ was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a complex developmental disorder that affects communication and social interaction in widely varied ways. Autism may affect motor skills, executive function, or sensory sensitivity. In some cases, autism is accompanied by other medical or mental health issues.
“It’s completely different for every individual that has it,” said DJ’s mom.
DJ is now 4 years old and attends My Little School in the Deming Public Schools, where he works with an occupational therapist and a speech therapist.
Now the family is organizing an inaugural Autism Awareness Community Walk for this spring to promote greater understanding and acceptance of autism. They hope it will be an annual event.
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The inspiration may not have been DJ alone, but his relationship with his older sister.
Crystal said their daughter Serenity, age 8, has a close bond with her younger brother: “I have never seen siblings as connected and as loving as those two.” She also observed Serenity teaching her peers about his condition, explaining his mannerisms, and normalizing him for other children.
“We don’t want to label that child as being like they are a tragedy. They are a unique individual just like anybody else on this planet.”
Crystal Gonzales described the goals of the public event in similar terms: “I want him to grow up in a community that understands him and other children – or adults for that matter – that live with this.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children in the United States are born with autism, a birth rate that has more than doubled since 2002; and it is 4.5 times more common in boys.
With such a wide range of conditions and challenges associated with autism, autism can be described in many ways – but there is one term that, for the Gonzales family, does not fit.
“I do not like to say that he has a disability,” said Crystal. “He has different abilities. He is unique in his own way.”
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Danny, DJ’s father, adds that when speaking of autism, “We don’t want to label that child as being like they are a tragedy. They are a unique individual just like anybody else on this planet.”
“I do not like to say that he has a disability. He has different abilities. He is unique in his own way.”
The Autism Awareness Community Walk will take place at Voiers “Pit” Park, across the street from the Starmax Entertainment Center on Country Club Road, on Saturday morning, April 7. In addition to a walk around the park there are plans for music, food vendors, play activities for children, and information booths in the pavilion area near the outdoor theatre.
While access to the event will be free, t-shirt sales and a raffle will raise funds to support a local effort to design and build an “all-inclusive” public playground featuring equipment allowing children with physical or developmental disabilities to play with their peers. A formal proposal for the park, sponsored by the Luna County Early Childhood Coalition, was delivered to the Deming City Council by the project organizer Gloria Orozco at a city council meeting on March 12.
Crystal said that parenting a child with autism has been a life lesson in loving unconditionally, and has changed how she views parenting and community life. Instead of regarding autism as a catastrophe, the parents are emulating Serenity’s approach and presenting autism as a set of circumstances by which some people navigate their lives.
She said, “We’re showing him that it’s okay to be who you are and to never be ashamed of yourself.”
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-546-2611 (ext. 2608) or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save the date…
What: Autism Awareness Community Walk
When: 9 a.m., Saturday, April 7
Where: Voiers “Pit” Park, 300 N. Country Club Rd.
Contact: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
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