Dozens of San Diego non-profits have been forced to cancel events and fundraisers because public health restrictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. But instead of pulling the plug on the 16th annual Race For Autism, the National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR) is taking their race online.
Chelsea Asaro is an outreach specialist with NFAR. She’s also a mother of an adult son living with autism. Fighting back tears, she said the coronavirus restrictions have been extremely challenging for her son. She knows other people struggling with mental health challenges are also suffering.
"Those with autism who tend to struggle with anxieties, who also have different difficulties with social communication and have a hard time with changes in their structure and routine are, they're struggling right now,” she said.
During these uncertain times it’s critical the community rallies around people and families living with autism, Asaro said.
"Now more than ever we think it's important that we continue with the race that we come out as a community to show our support to those with autism,” she said.
The Race For Autism is NFAR’s only annual fundraiser. The money raised helps support programs and services for thousands of San Diego children and families effected by autism, including a one-of-a-kind vocational training program for young adults with high-functioning autism.
The superhero-themed event typically draws thousands to Balboa Park, but this year organizers are asking participants do things a little differently. Once they register online, they’ll be mailed a superhero cape, t-shirt and commemorative medal, but they won't be running in a mob of thousands -- They'll run on their own on March 28 and share their experience virtually with pictures and videos over social media.
"I would love for us to be able to say that these COVID-19 restrictions, they weren't a setback for us, it was an opportunity for us to increase autism awareness and really grow our programs and services that we're able to offer,” Asaro said.
If you know a caretaker or parent of someone with autism, Asaro suggested reaching out to them during this unpredictable time to offer support and encouragement. Asaro is hopeful others will be a “hero for autism” by showing up for the race.
“In these challenging times we all need to band together even when we can't be together,” she said.
The virtual race will be held Saturday, March 28. For more information or to sign up to run, go to raceforautism.org.