Learning to 'embrace the challenge' of autism
The power of love and social media has propelled family members of 2-year-old Tyler King into a spotlight for which they weren't quite sure they were ready.
That spotlight is blue, and it shines on autism during Autism Awareness month in April.
Tyler's 10-year-old brother, Cole Reedy, made a simple video for Facebook telling everyone how much he loved his brother, who had just been diagnosed in January with autism and 10 other disorders commonly associated with autism. Cole also asked people to display blue porch lights being sold by the national Autism Speaks "Light it Up Blue" campaign to support families dealing with autism.
"The outpouring of the community has been above and beyond belief," said Tyler's dad, Seth King.
King said the family has received responses from over 15 states, and Cole's video has been shared by hundreds of people.
Cole says he was just trying to let others know that his little brother is "awesome" just the way he is.
"It's nice that people know what it's like and there are other kids with it too," he said.
Tyler's mom, Hannah King, who is a first-grade teacher at Villa Grove Elementary, said the family wasn't quite expecting to "come out" in such a big way, after running the gamut of emotions through Tyler's testing and diagnosis.
"We've learned to embrace the challenge instead of hide from it," she said. "We've all come along way."
The King family hopes to keep the momentum going Friday in their hometown of Villa Grove by hosting a Blue's Cruise fundraising event. Families are asked to meet at about 7 p.m. at The Scoop ice cream stand on the south end of Main Street for a car cruise to view and count the dozens of blue porch lights that are displayed at homes and businesses around town.
For extra fun, cruisers can count the number of lights they see along the route, and the official number will be posted back at The Scoop.
The cruise is a free event, but 10 percent of the days' proceeds at The Scoop will benefit Autism Speaks — plus money from sales of T-shirts and a special "Blue" music CD for the event.
Cassandra Gunter, owner of The Scoop, is helping to organize the activities and also sold blue lights from her shop.
"The Kings have embraced this diagnosis and have shared their talents and leadership qualities to encourage us to unite as a community and support families on their journey with autism," she said.
The kids in the community will also get involved Friday by visiting The Scoop for special blue ice cream cones throughout the school day. Hannah King has organized field trips for the elementary students as a character building activity to demonstrate ways to support others and the community.
"I think it's great that the kids are learning about it too, so they know we aren't all the same and that's okay," Gunter said. "It's definitely heightened awareness in this community."
To finish out the month, Hannah King is working with a local fitness group, Chix in Training, to sponsor a family-friendly run through town. It will be at dusk and runners will carry glow sticks with them. Details are still being worked out for an evening in late April.
She says the best part of the experience has been connecting with other families with autistic children and sharing feelings and ideas about their experiences.
"We learn from other families and they learn from us, and that's been the tremendous part of it," Hannah King said.
If you go
What: Blue's Cruise autism awareness fundraiser
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 19
Where: The Scoop in Villa Grove
Cost: Participation is free; donations to Autism Speaks may be made at the Villa Grove State Bank to the Tyler King for Autism Awareness fund (all money will be donated to Autism Speaks).