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Center works to raise autism awareness

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Center works to raise autism awareness
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More than one million Americans are living with some form of autism spectrum disorder, but finding a support system for those people can sometimes be a challenge. That's where the Kelberman Center in Utica comes in. Sarah Blazonis reports.

UTICA, N.Y. -- Tonya Rearick says her daughter, Rebecca, was one year old when she and her husband became concerned.

"She wasn't walking, talking, staring off into the corner, wouldn't turn towards your name if you were calling her," said Tonya Rearick.

It would be another two years before Rebecca was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Her mom says she was relieved to have some answers, but they also brought up more questions.

"Knowing where we were going to end up. I guess when we finally got diagnosed, where do we go from here? How do we better her?" said Rearick.

Now five, Rebecca is walking, talking, excelling in school and learning to swim. Tonya credits part of her daughter's success to the Kelberman Center. The center provides programs and services to about 100 autistic children and their families every year.

The Kelberman Center says maintaining programs, like Learn to Swim, is becoming more important than ever. Newly released figures from the CDC show one out of every 88 people is affected by autism. That's more than previously thought.

"Everyone is becoming more aware, but they also feel that there's something going on that's not explaining the entire increase. So they're really focusing now on the research as to what is causing it," said Tammy Thomas, the center's director for Home and Community Programs.

Until that answer comes, the center has its annual Walks for Autism. Held during Autism Awareness Month in April, they're its major fundraisers and help make programs more affordable for families. That's a big help considering it costs an average of $3.2 million for a lifetime of care for autistic individuals.

"I think it's huge for kids and I think it's huge for the family," said Thomas.

Officials say each step will make sure Rebecca, and children like her, will have the center's services available for generations to come.

The center's annual Walks for Autism raised $115,000 to provide services in the Mohawk Valley last year. This year's walks are scheduled for Saturday, April 21st in Oneida, Rome and Utica. Walks will also be held in Boonville, Cooperstown and New Hartford on April 28th.

You can still pre-register for the Oneida Walk at Oneida High School on April 20 from 3 to 7 p.m., the Utica Walk at the Kelberman Center's Armory Drive Campus in Building A on April 20th from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and for the Boonville Walk at the V.F.W. on April 27th from 3 to 6 p.m.

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