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Fighting autism one day and dollar at a time

One Federal Way resident is only a few clicks of a computer mouse away from raising $10,000 to help find a cure for autism.

Stephanie Hare is the top money collector for the Autism Speaks northwest chapter's Tacoma Walk Now for Autism event. Hare has raised $9,895 so far — her goal is $10,000.

Autism is a disorder that affects the brain, according to www.autismspeaks.org. It is part of a group called autism spectrum disorders. Autism can be detected as early as 18 months and lasts throughout one's lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Developmental disabilities, such as communication impairments, may accompany the disorder. Those affected by autism often need to follow a structured routine to be able to learn and interact with others, according to www.cdc.gov.

In 2007, the CDC released data finding that in the United States, every one in 150 8-year-old children had an autism spectrum disorder.

Hare's son, Connor, 4, has autism. This has motivated Hare to help researchers find a cure for the disorder by participating in the Tacoma Walk Now for Autism.

The Autism Speaks northwest chapter celebrated Hare's contributions to the walk July 11 at the walk's kick-off event.

"We're holding her up as an example to everyone," said Mark Barlet, Autism Speaks northwest chapter president.

Setting an example

An example is set by Hare for her peers and family daily.

Connor was diagnosed with autism shortly before his third birthday. He appeared to be developing like any other toddler, but suddenly began having trouble making eye contact, Hare said.

He threw up to 20 tantrums a day and had a hard time transitioning between activities, she said. The Hares noticed Connor wasn't responding to his name as usual either.

"It was almost like he was deaf," Hare said.

After more than six months of searching for resources and waiting for test results, the Hares learned Connor was autistic.

Stephanie Hare, who has a degree in psychology, instinctively felt her son may have autism, but when a therapist confirmed the disorder, she still found the situation difficult to grasp.

"You need to grieve who you thought your son was going to be and accept who he is now," a therapist told Hare, she said.

Hare is now a stay-at-home mother, caring for Connor and her two other children. She used to work in her family's business, but with three children all under age 7, she no longer has enough time in the day to work and care for her family.

Hare has accepted Connor as he is and continues to love him and dedicate her time and attention to him. But she made up her mind when he was diagnosed that she wasn't going to sit back and let autism win the battle.

She has seen her son grow and has seen his struggles. She is aware of how autism has affected Connor and the rest of her family. Her 6-year-old daughter, Carolyn, sometimes struggles to understand why Hare has to spend so much time with Connor.

Hare knows Connor will live with autism for the rest of his life unless a cure is found. This is why she began raising money for the Tacoma Walk Now for Autism.

Most of the fundraising Hare did was through the Autism Speaks Web site, she said. The site allows walkers to create personal Web pages for those they are walking for.

She networked, sending out e-mails to friends and family, each one containing a link to the "We Love Connor!!" team Web page she created. The page allows people to get to know Connor and learn about autism without having to face the uncomfortable social situation of asking about the disorder, Hare said.

"It's a way to come together and say it's OK to talk about this," she said.

For Hare, her efforts and contributions to the walk and to finding a cure for autism are not things she tends to think about. She acknowledges that $10,000 is a chunk of change, but also said the money was not difficult to raise. Her family contributed $6,000, but Hare raised the other $4,000 alone. She feels compelled to raise the money.

"I don't think about it," Hare said. "I just do it."

Hare's fundraising efforts will continue for another month, when the Tacoma Walk Now for Autism event will take place beginning at 9 a.m. Aug. 25 at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium, 1707 Main St., Sumner.

The walk will be set up as a 5K walk, but participants are allowed to walk as much or little as they desire, Barlet said.

Currently, about 130 walkers are registered to participate. One may join the walk any time before, or even the day of the event, he said.

Contact Jacinda Howard at jhoward@fedwaymirror or (253) 925-5565.

To learn more about participating in the Tacoma Walk Now for Autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org and click on the "walk events" links. One may also call Mark or Susan Barlet at (253) 722-4458. One may also show up for the walk and register the morning of the event, Barlet said.

To learn more about autism, also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov.

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