Why I Walk

As most of you know, my family and I will be participating in the 2012 Jacksonville Walk for Autism Speaks. Well, this week, I was contacted by the folks organizing the walk. They wanted to recognize me, I guess, because I had raised a certain amount of money. Anyway, as I was talking with the coordinator, she invited me to write a short piece for their online newsletter. The theme was “Why I Walk,” and I was to keep it to 350 words or less—quite a challenge for a wordy person like myself! But I did it, and here it is, with a few links added in:

Hi, there. My name is Leo Zanchettin, and I’ve got plenty of reasons to walk for autism. Actually, I’ve got four main reasons: our kids who are on the autism spectrum. I’ve also got two other reasons: our kids who are not on the spectrum.

That’s right. My wife (Katie) and I have six kids, and four of them are on the autism spectrum. We like to say that we put the fun in high-functioning! We have so much fun that I’ve set an ambitious goal for this year’s walk—and a wacky incentive to go along with it. I’ve promised my donors that if I can raise $1,500.00 or more, I will dye a huge, blue puzzle piece in my hair for the walk. Yes, I will “go blue” for autism research!

So why do I walk? First, because I don’t want any family to go through the heartbreak we went through when our oldest child was diagnosed at 11 years of age—or the heartbreak that he went through for so long before he was diagnosed. I walk because I want every pediatrician to become expert in early detection. I want every child on the spectrum to benefit from early intervention—the way my older ones did not but my younger ones have.

Second, I walk because I dream of a world where educators recognize and welcome students on the spectrum. Too many times have we heard teachers telling us that there’s nothing wrong with one or another of our kids—at least nothing that a little extra discipline won’t solve. I walk to help raise awareness. I want kids on the spectrum to receive every opportunity to grow to their fullest potential.

Finally, I walk because I want every family touched by ASD to have access to scientifically validated, clinically effective treatments that really will help them. We are just beginning to understand the causes of ASD. We are just beginning to figure out what works and what doesn’t. I walk because I want trusted experts to protect families against hope-stealing, wallet-draining “miracle cures.”

So that’s why I walk. My kids are my heroes, and I want to give them everything I can.

Yep, that’s what I’m walking. And that’s what you are helping to accomplish with your donations. I’m very close to my goal, too. Just $120.00 more, and I’ll go blue. So here’s your chance to push me over the edge. Go ahead and make a pledge. Come on. You know you want to!

Congrats, Ernie!

While the golfing world is filled with news of Ernie Els winning the British Open this weekend, I thought I’d repost a video he produced for Autism Speaks. In 2005, Els’ son, Ben, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, and after he and his wife went through the shock and grief of the diagnosis–which he himself speaks of–he realized he was in a unique position to help. And so began the plans for the Els Center of Excellence in South Florida. “Autism hits families hard,” Els wrote, “and I’ll be fighting for the rest of my life to try and help others in the same situation.”

I find it comforting to know that people like Ernie Els are giving so much to the cause of autism research and therapy. Of course, he’s got skin in the game! But he doesn’t have to go to such lengths to found a $30-million state-of-the-art facility. He could just as easily write a huge check to Autism Speaks every year, and get on with his golf. And neither is he trying to use this project as a way to burnish his image or market himself, as others have done. He’s just trying to make a difference for people like Ben.

So join me in congratulating Ernie Els on winning the British Open–something he wasn’t expected to do. But let’s congratulate him also for his generosity and dedication to something bigger than his life, his career, and his image. And if you have a mind to help out, remember that my family is going to be walking for autism research in September. We’d really appreciate any donations you could make to help us hit our goal. We can’t give $6 million, like Ernie and Liezl Els did, but we can do something that still makes a difference!