By Kristina Houck
Like many autistic children, 8-year-old Andrew finds large crowds and loud noises overwhelming. During Autism Awareness Day at the Del Mar Racetrack, however, Andrew and 19 other children with autism will get to enjoy the Del Mar horse races.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” said Andrew’s mother, Krystal Langford, who noted her son loves animals. “If it was a normal group setting, he wouldn’t be able to attend because it would be too loud and overwhelming.”
The children and their families will participate in a VIP stable tour and join the winner’s circle following the first race, named the “Autism Speaks Race.” Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks, will also be in attendance.
“It’s so important to acknowledge and recognize leadership like we’re getting from the Del Mar Racetrack,” Feld said. “They’re role models for people around the country for doing this. It’s hard to overstate how rare it is for a family affected by autism to go out and be able to enjoy a day like this.”
The Del Mar Racetrack is sponsoring the event in coordination with Autism Speaks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to autism awareness, research and advocacy.
Langford has volunteered for the organization since her son was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old.
“Unfortunately, everybody knows somebody who is affected by autism,” said Langford. “It’s great to attach yourself to an organization that helps you understand what’s going on, not be all alone, and gives you the tools and help that you need. Autism Speaks has done that for my family.”
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines autism spectrum disorder as “a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects about one in every 88 American children.
“With autism as prevalent as it is now, you can go to any neighborhood and find a family that’s affected by autism,” Feld said. “For the community to recognize that this is part of everyday life now, it’s meaningful.”
In addition to Autism Awareness Day at the Del Mar Racetrack, Autism Speaks is hosting other events in San Diego to raise awareness for autism, including Autism Awareness Night at PETCO Park on Sept. 20 and the 10th annual San Diego Walk Now for Autism Speaks on Oct. 5 at Liberty Station.
Langford is the resource fair chair for the walk, and her mother, Kay Curry, is the event co-chair.
“The best ways to sensitize people to the needs of those affected by autism is to have events right in their own community so they can see this is going on everywhere,” Feld said. “There are people being diagnosed with autism every 15 minutes right in their neighborhood.”
Langford said she is looking forward to spending a day at the races with her family, and is thankful the Del Mar Racetrack will raise autism awareness during the event, which will take place from noon to 5 p.m. on Aug. 24.
“I love that the Del Mar Racetrack is having this Awareness Day and helping spread the word,” Langford said. “My son’s a part of the community, so I want the community to know my son.”
For more information about Autism Speaks, visit www.autismspeaks.org.