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Autism awakening: Mom prepares for 12th year of state’s largest autism event at Carnation
By Kevin Endejan
Of the Issaquah Reporter
When the diagnosis arrived, Lynne Banki experienced a gamut of emotions, led by a sense of uncertainty.
“It was extremely intimidating,” said Banki, whose son, Caspian, was diagnosed with autism just before age 3.
Now, 18 and ready to leave his Sammamish home for his first year at Front Range Community College in Colorado, Lynne feels nervous again.
This time, however, her worries come with the sense of pride and confidence of a mother watching her oldest of three children off on his own—something Lynne struggled to fathom 15 years ago.
As a child, Caspian displayed many of the common idiosyncrasies associated with autism. He would repeat phrases over and over, he became frightened easily, he would throw intense tantrums and he struggled socially.
Now, the recent Issaquah High School graduate confidently looks people in the eye, gives handshakes and answers questions.
“He’s ahead of the curve now,” Lynne said. “When he was born, I thought he was behind the curve.”
Years of various treatments were vital, but it’s also easy for Lynne to point back to one specific life-changing moment.
In search of a way to show Caspian “things behind the things,” she wanted to reveal to him where food at the grocery store came from. This led her to a Jubilee Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture establishment, in Carnation.
Lynne started bringing then 6-year-old Caspian to the farm every day after therapy sessions.
“The last thing we used to do at the end of the day is come here,” she said. “It was just a place where I could let my guard down.”
Lynne noticed Caspian was blossoming with the frequent trips to the farm when he started to understand which foods came first in specific seasons.
“That’s when I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if other families knew about this and they could come,” Lynne said.
She approached Erick and Wendy Haakenson with an idea about of hosting an autism event at Jubilee Farm.
There was no hesitation from the owners.
“I couldn’t even finish the sentence and [Erick] was like ‘sure,’” Lynne said.
Since 2001, the farm has hosted Autism Day WA. The free event features a variety of activities and booths.
The most popular event, according to Caspian, is the slip and slide which uses water pumped from the nearby river.
For Erick, who said he knew several families touched by autism, two things in particular pulled him into hosting the event year after year.
“Families of autistic kids said this is a place where we can bring our kids and feel like they can be safe,” he said. “The other thing was, it’s just great to see the autistic kids themselves coming out in droves and just having an absolute ball.”
Each year, the event grows. The first drew 40 families. Last year the number moved up to between 350 to 370 families, or close to 1,200 people.
Lynne, who is the executive director of Autism Day Washington, said she expects more than 400 families this year. The high turnout is not a surprise, considering the increased awareness of autism and the fact that the latest numbers from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention say 1 in 88 children has some form of autism spectrum disorder. That’s changed from 1 in 150 in 2002.
“Guaranteed you’ll see another family and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that kid does the same thing my kid does,’” Lynne said.
This year’s event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11, features several autism-friendly activities, booths, live performances, food and a first-ever fundraiser raffle. There are also two quiet zones on site for those who become overwhelmed.
While children are often the first thing that comes to mind with autism, Lynne said adults shouldn’t be forgotten. In fact, there will be several on the autism spectrum at the event who will run their own booths and put on live performances.
Caspian, the inspiration for Autism Day, is headed off to Fort Collins, Colo., soon to get adjusted to college life.
“I’m kind of unsure about it,” he said. “It’s a new transition, but I’ll get used to it eventually.”
He will fly back for his 12th straight event, however ‚Äî something he admits means so much, but something he can’t put into words.
“It’s just kind of hard to answer,” Caspian said, when asked about its importance.
Lynne also works as a special needs Tae Kwon Do instructor at True Martial Arts and provides classroom presentations on autism to elementary through college students. She has written a book with Caspian, “What Autism Means to Me,” and is working on spreading similar non-profit events to other regions of Washington and other states.
“I guess it kind of ends up touching every part of your life,” she said.
• You can learn more about Autism Day at www.autismdaywa.com. Donations for the event raffle can be made by calling (425) 802-7420