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Walk for autism

Chris Muise

Bill Redfern (centre) walks proudly alongside his daughter Lauren (right) as part of Walk the Walk for Autism earlier this summer. Walk the Walk raises funds for autism-related programs in the region, as well as community awareness for those with autism and their families. (Contributed)

Lauren and Alex Redfern are pretty lucky kids, all things considered. Even though they were diagnosed with autism at an early age, they’ve been blessed with a loving and understanding family that wants to expose them to the same things as one would expose any kid to, and their father, Bill Redfern, has been able to help supplement the support they receive from the mental health system with private providers.

“We were exposed to the world of autism firstly through Lauren, and next through Alex, who were both diagnosed at relatively early ages,” says Redfern, CEO of A Buyer’s Choice Home Inspections. “They’re doing reasonably well, and fortunately, they’ve had a ton of therapy outside of what’s available there in the system. Lauren’s developing a vocabulary, slowly but surely. Alex doesn’t speak yet, but he’s able to communicate partially.”

Redfern knows that not all families have the same access to supports and services his family has been able to access for Lauren, 10, and Alex, age eight. That’s why, when it came time to give back through the Walk the Walk for Autism event this year, he brought his company with him.

“They’re healthy and happy kids, but it exposes you, as a parent, to a whole different world than you ever expected,” says Redfern, who wants to help give other families as much access as possible to the resources they need to help raise their autistic children. “We got involved, mostly with Autism Nova Scotia, and then following that, with Autism Speaks Canada. Now, as a company, we have all of our franchises — around 120 franchises in Canada — donate a portion of our proceeds from every inspection to Autism Speaks Canada.”

Redfern also personally participated in Walk the Walk for Autism this year as part of Team Lauren and Alex, who have been part of the event for many years now themselves, and are regularly ranked among the top fundraising teams each year. It’s also the first year many of the local A Buyer’s Choice agents came out and joined personally.

Their fundraising efforts were ranked fifth overall this year, totalling a $3,366 donation towards Autism Nova Scotia.

Those dollars have a direct, observable impact on families living with autism, according to Cynthia Carroll, executive director of Autism Nova Scotia.

“What’s important to us at Autism Nova Scotia is that families are benefiting now, that that quality of life is impacted now, in the moment — that families are able to access services,” says Carroll. “There are tremendous service gaps for autism support across the province. This eases that burden slightly on the lack of services and supports, especially in rural communities where services are even more scarce.”

Walk the Walk is unique, in that the money raised in each community —there are nine walks across Nova Scotia each year — is fed directly back into the same community, which especially helps give rural areas a much needed boost towards supports and services that they might otherwise not have.

Carroll says that Walk the Walk is responsible for numerous programs across Nova Scotia — everything from preschool and summer camp programs, to art programs and even a therapeutic horse riding program.

“Five years ago, none of this existed, and it wouldn’t have existed without Walk the Walk,” says Carroll.

Carroll attributes all of the success of these walks to the volunteers who come out to support it.

“What we’re seeing, too, with this event is there are real champions coming and walking in communities, and in Halifax, corporations are starting to get involved, because they can see the direct benefits to families and individuals,” says Carroll. “They really are the unsung heroes, that make this a success year after year.”

Walk the Walk has another benefit to the autistic community besides the obvious monetary one — it gives families and individuals with autism a chance to bond not just between each other, but also with the community-at-large, and feel like a very real part of that community.

“It’s a good event — I think it’s a good bonding experience for people that are sharing common challenges,” says Redfern. Redfern knows that he and his ex-wife expose their children to life experiences more than some other parents might, but he would like to see the general public become more understanding of those with autism, and better educate themselves on the condition, so families won’t have to feel guilty or overwhelmed taking their children out in public.

“If they see someone out in the community that has an autistic child, don’t be offended,” says Redfern “Just be understanding that the child is different and may make some noises or what-have-you, but they’re a human being as well, and they have every right to be in a park or a restaurant like anyone else.”

Carroll would like to see a similar change in public perception, and considers the Walk the Walk event to be a perfect microcosm of the world she wants to see.

“Families talk about that — if the child is having some challenges, no one looks at them differently when they’re at the walk, everyone’s completely accepting and supportive,” says Carroll. “Really, it’s everything you want your community to be.”

Walk the Walk for Autism raised over $60,000 for autism supports and services this year, and Carroll hopes more people can get involved next year. Redfern certainly will be, as he expects he and his company will be sure to make the event an annual priority, and his company’s franchises have other autism-related charity events planned across the country through to next spring.

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