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More than 1,000 attend Rally for Autism

Apr. 27, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Among an estimated 1,300 people taking part in Saturday's Rally for Autism, Tanner Hesson's team could be easily seen among the crowd.

Wearing shirts in a shade of orange, Tanner's favorite color, his family made certain to let the rest of those in attendance know exactly what they thought of their favorite 9-year-old.

"We all got these T-shirts made at Polaris in Columbus that say 'Tanner' on the front and 'I'm au-some,' on the back," said his mother, Kristi Hesson, who made the trek to Huntington for the 12th annual event. "He's excited, and we just think he's the most amazing child ever."

The Hessons have ties to the Tri-State -- Tanner's dad, David Hesson, is a Huntington native -- and said they were thrilled to make the three-hour drive from their home in Columbus, Ohio, to Ritter Park to expose their son to "this giant group of people who are rallying for people just like him."

"We got his diagnosis last year after fighting for five years. Tanner has extreme food anxieties, and there are classes and training opportunities that help with that, but they have to be paid for with cash, which becomes very expensive," Kristi Hesson said. "We really wanted to participate in the rally to help raise funds for research and training and do our part, and to also show Tanner that his daddy's hometown loves children with autism and are running, walking and biking for children like him."

Mike Grady, chief executive officer of Autism Services Center, a beneficiary of Saturday's event, said funds raised from the rally help defray costs for his employees who want to attend school, focusing on some subject that will enable them to perform better at their job.

"Over the years, I think the reason for the rally has changed a little bit. I think most people these days understand what autism is, but now it's more about finding ways and the money to provide lifetime services to individuals with autism," Grady said. "Even if we found out tomorrow what causes autism, we're a long way from finding out how to cure it."

Grady said one of the most frustrating components of autism care is the lack of available services once an individual graduates from school.

"It comes down to resources and money, and we're going to have to figure out how to spread that throughout a person's lifetime or be faced with the recognition that more folks are going to end up without, than with, services they need," he said.

The event, Grady added, is also a yearly opportunity to celebrate the successes of autism care and services in Huntington.

"Huntington should pat itself on the back for opening doors to the autism community and being much more aware of autism earlier than many other communities," Grady said. "Without that, Bill and Ruth Sullivan, who founded Autism Services Center, may never have moved here."

Proceeds from Saturday's event are split evenly between Autism Services Center, Autism Society River Cities and the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.



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