From the Cranford Chronicle
Autistic Cranford teen will help self and others as part of the Ride for Autism
Published: Tuesday, June 07, 2011, 4:25 PM
CRANFORD — On June 11, dozens of cyclists will gather at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft to participate in the 11th annual Ride for Autism. Riders of different skill levels and experience will take part, selecting differing routes to match their needs, as they support the non-profit Autism NJ, the largest statewide network of parents and professionals dedicated to improving the lives of people with autism and their families.
Among those participating will be Cranford couple Kristina Chew and Jim Fisher and their teen son, Charlie. As he participates Charlie will be one of the most important riders that day, for he is one of the autistic children the event aims to help.
Chew explained that her 14-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age two. She classified Charlie as being “moderate to severe” on the autism spectrum. He has limited language skills, but very easily engages in physical activities like running and riding his bike.
For Chew writing about her son and the impact of autism on their family proved cathartic. She began a blog —originally titled “My Son has Autism” — in June 2005.
“I got a very desperate kind of feeling and I needed an outlet,” Chew said. “It felt as though we were very isolated.”
She began to write every day, offering an inside and often very frank look at what it means to raise a child with autism. Chew chronicles everything from the clear benefit that physical activity has for her son and the family’s use of technology for teaching, to the more perturbing moments, including his breaking a tablet computer, seemingly in frustration.
“Writing about Charlie has also been a way, to me, of providing witness,” she said.
One of the common themes in the blog is Charlie’s bike rides with his father Jim, with most of the bike trips averaging more than 15 miles. His father was the one who wanted Charlie to learn to ride a bike without training wheels, Chew explained. When he was six-years-old, Charlie began riding his bike. It remains among of his favorite activities and one at which he excels.
Riding his bike and participating in the Ride For Autism have become proven confidence builders for Charlie, but he is not the only autistic child who rides in the event.
As he made the ride last year, Chew said her son struggled at a few points and, when other riders moved past, Fisher was quick to point out the importance of their son’s participation.
“He pointed to Charlie and said ‘that’s why we’re here’,” Chew said.
That ability to participate is, in large part, what caused Andy Abere who founded the Ride for Autism as a way to support Autism NJ and his autistic son, Spencer.
Abere said his family was at their local bike shop 11 years ago, looking for a bike for Spencer when he noticed the pamphlets for charity rides. Looking for a ride to benefit autism, Abere couldn’t find one. Undeterred, he began his own event—Ride for Autism—which now draws more than 500 riders a year.
A number of those riders will be, like Charlie, autistic. That, Abere said, is one of the main objectives.
“Quite frankly, it’s a ride for autism so people with autism should be there. So we try to set it up as best we can for them,” Abere said.
There is a one-mile “fun ride” loop on the Brookdale campus that all riders can take and more intense rides —up to 100 miles—for the more experienced.
To encourage families with autistic children to attend the event, even those who can not make the ride, Abere said there is a component of the Ride for Autism designed to accommodate their needs.
For parents or caregivers of children on the autism spectrum, the ride will offer a “Respite Rest Stop” — a special area at the start/finish on Brookdale’s campus, staffed by therapists. This will be a safe and secure place for children to have fun while parents or caregivers enjoy the ride.
Instead of having to raise funds through pledges, the Ride for Autism requires only a flat registration fee and allows walk up registration the day of the event. While any donations will be accepted, Abere said the focus remains in large part about raising awareness of autism.
“We do like raising money, but just as important is raising awareness,” he said.
For more information about the Ride for Autism or to make a donation to support Autism NJ, visit autismnj.org
© 2011 NJ.com. All rights reserved.