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Student-founded autism awareness walk aims even higher this year

Posted on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

By John Coffelt, Staff Writer

Pictured, from left, are Emma Allen, Tosha Eaton, Shelby Blanton, Kelsey Shipley, Shannon Brown and event founder eighth grader Pryce Hutchings. (Staff photo by John Coffelt)

About this time last year, Westwood Middle School student Pryce Hutchings organized an autism awareness walk that raised just under $5,000.

This year the eighth grader is working hard to exceed last year’s proceeds with the I Fit Autism Awareness Run/Walk to be held from 6-7:30 p.m., April 26 at the WMS track.

“Our walk was good,” Hutchings said. “We’re going to get past $5,000 this year.”

To up the ante, this year Hutchins is eying more business sponsorships, radio ads and more visibility at the school.

This Hutchins has enlisted a committee, including Westwood students Riley Stephens, Jonathan Woodfin, Abby Vargas, Emma Allen, Josie Taylor, Gelesy Taung and Tosha Eaton, to help.

“The student committee worked last week on creating giant puzzle pieces for posters and hung those around school,” said Westwood health teacher Cindy Young.

“They are helping to spread the word among students and faculty at our school.  They did an inventory of T-shirts and bracelets Pryce had left from last year, getting them ready to sell.  They are each raising money for the walk/run by asking for donations, selling bracelets and T-shirts.

“The group also brainstormed different ways to get the word out to the public, and area businesses and took a packet of posters, donation sheets and information are distributing I Fit information to the community as well.

“It’s pretty much all student directed,” said Westwood teacher William Pannell. “The majority of the work has come from the students.”

Committee members said that they felt more of their friends would more likely participate in the event because a peer organized it.

“It’s influence,” said student committee member Emma Allen. “If somebody popular is doing it, other people are going to want to.”

She modestly denies being popular but still hopes that her work has helped.

“It’s not just that this originated with a student, but a student who has to deal with this on a daily basis,” Pannell added.

“It’s very admirable.”

The goal is to raise awareness about autism, not just funds.

Allen said that she has learned, “ how it’s harder for kids to learn if they have autism.”

Anyone not in Hutchins circle of friends would never notice that the outspoken youth has faced his own battles with autism.

As a child, Hutchins was diagnoses with Asperger syndrome, a somewhat less severe form of autism.

He said that he would like people to know that autism is “more widely spread than people imagine.”

He said, “It’s not a rare thing. It’s more common that they think it does.”

Raising Awareness

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health, “Autism is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”

Some recent figures indicate that for 8-year-olds, 1 in 88 will place in the autism spectrum.

Moreover, males are four times as likely to have Autism Spectrum Disorder as females.

Often, according to institute information, the hallmark of ASD is impaired social interaction.

Early indicators

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke offers a list of things to look for if you suspect an infant might have ASD.

  • No babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • loss of language or social skills
  • poor eye contact
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include may include impaired ability to make friends with peers, impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others, the absence or impairment of imaginative and social play, stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language, restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus, a preoccupation with certain objects or subjects and inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

While there is no cure for ASD, there are treatments that can bring improvements symptoms.

For more information on ASD, go to and search for ASD.

For more information about participating in the I Fit Run/Walk, call Westwood Middle School at (931) 588-1556.