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'Autism Extravaganza' teaches community about developmental disorders

By Jenna Rogers, Reporter, jrogers@ktxs.com
Published On: Feb 06 2013 08:12:33 PM CST
ABILENE, Texas -

 The number of children diagnosed with autism is on the rise. It is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States.

Wednesday marked the 9th annual "Autism Extravaganza," and hundreds woke up early to learn more about the disorder that's now affecting one in 88 children.

About 250 people registered to attend the event.

Lazarus Harrison was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old.

"He's considered to be on the higher functioning end of the spectrum because cognitively, he's exactly where he needs to be," said his mother, Christa Cantu.

She said Lazarus has the most trouble with communication and social skills.

She wants people to the community to get educated about autism spectrum disorders and the behaviors that accompany them.

"If it's something that you don't really understand, i think it can be kind of scary for some people," said Cantu.

The "Autism Extravaganza" luncheon provided a place for people to listen and ask questions about the disorder.

John Elder Robison has Asperger Syndrome, and travels the world speaking about the challenges he's overcome.

He's written two books, Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, and Be Different, about coping with the social disorder.

He said people with autism simply think differently than others, and sometimes people make the assumption that those with the condition are actually smarter than others.

He said a major contribution to society is that different way of thinking. If 99% of people see something one way, one person that sees it differently can solve a problem.

"Our different way of thinking is often what drives the world forward," said Robison.

He wants people to know how far he has come. As a child, he had extreme difficulty interpreting body language, communicating with others and making friends.

"It's important for young people and parents growing up with children with autism to see grown-ups like me to realize that i was a pretty disabled child," said Robison.

He hopes he can help children like Lazarus understand their potential, and realize they are not alone.

"What i really want to do is be realistic about the hard work we have to do to learn how to fit in. I want to show people the hope and promise for the future," said Robison.

Christa Cantu knows that her son has a bright one.

"Autism is not a sad thing. I think autistic people are special, autistic people are smart, and autistic people are unique," said Cantu.

The luncheon also served as a kick-off to the annual "Greater Abilene Walk Now for Autism Speaks." That event will be held Saturday, April 27, 2013, at the Abilene Zoo.