Posted by: Autism Speaks | October 22, 2009

Why I Walk: To See the Gift I Have Been Given in My Child

Max and Sara

It’s hard to believe that it has been nine years since my journey with autism began. I remember the mourning, the despair, the feeling of hopelessness when my son Max was diagnosed at age two. I felt like my friends and family didn’t understand – could never understand. I felt alone.

We moved through that pain to find help for our son and eventually started to understand what our life would be like with a child with autism; that we would be happy, and although challenging, life could be good.

When Max was four, I received a mailing about the first Walk in our area. I thought, okay, now here is something I can do to make a difference, to reach out beyond my personal experience and help others, to raise money to find a cause, treatments and eventually a cure.

Little did I know, that everything I did would return to me tenfold.

I met people who walked the autism road as I did and found support and friendship. I met professionals who had a deep commitment to helping our families.

But what I didn’t expect was the outpouring of support from my friends and family who came forward to walk with us, who donated money, who volunteered and who joined our Walk committee.

They didn’t know what else to do to help, so this is how they showed their love.

To this day, I get choked up when I receive a donation for our Mission for Max team. It brings me to tears on Walk day when I see my friends, my family, my co-workers there because they care about our family and my son.

How lucky we are.

I walk for a cure. I walk for effective treatments. I walk for services for individuals on the spectrum. I walk for awareness.

I walk for those families who are still in despair. I hope they will see the gift they have been given in their child. I hope that they too will move beyond their grief and feel the love and support that our family has found.


By Elly Hagen
Southwest Florida Walk Now for Autism Speaks Chair

Six Walk Now for Autism Speaks events took place the weekend of October 17-18 – Central ValleyGreater Boston, Greater Hudson Valley, North/Central New Jersey, Terre Haute and Tennessee.

Would you like to share with our community why you walk? Please send 300 words or fewer and a photo to us at



  1. I agree that it is a gift to have a child with autism and I am glad that we are able to do something to bring awareness to this disorder. Keep it up Ally!

    • my name is denise mcnamara and did my first autism walk this friend and has a son with autism so we have a team for jakes sake and we raised money and all children walked with us.I felt so good when we were done and so did my kids.I love her son very much and i will continue to walk for autism as long as i can.I learned alot that day about families with children with autism.I agree a child with autism is a gift from god.

  2. It’s nice that Elly feels her child with Autism is a gift…he is still a child. Our son is 46. Finding help for him, trying to live as normal a life as possible has taken its’ toll on our health, our finances and our relationships. It’s no gift…it is hell. Rose colored glasses are sweet but we need to find causes and cures…the world is a cruel place and our children suffer.

  3. I too know with everything that I am, Autism is a gift!
    We are also 9 years from diagnosis.
    We would have taken our family on a very different trip, had Autism not come into our lives.
    That trip would have been precious, yes, but, not as delicious as the one we are on!
    We choose to LIVE life, not drudge through it!
    These children, and adults, are here to teach us all how to live life! How to enjoy life! How to love life!
    I do believe it is all personal perspective! You can choose to live in despair, or you can choose to live in hope! Which feels better?
    I can personally feel that my son has taught me not to give a rip what everyone else thinks! It is only about how you see your life!
    The only time these children have a problem with much of anything is when we “make” them conform to what everyone else thinks they should be doing! In fact, haven’t we all rebelled when someone makes us do anything that is not within our own hearts?
    This child is my most profound teacher! I am so grateful to him, for choosing me to be his Mother on our path through life, on our spiritual path!
    You can choose to live…the better it gets, the better it gets, or, the worse it gets, the worse it gets! Which one “feels” better! I “choose” to Embrace our life! YES!

  4. Autism is not a gift. It is a gift to have the capacity to cope with it gracefully. The child suffering from autism IS suffering. Treatment is expensive and not all families have any extra money for the tutors and treatments. It is a drain on the finances of even those who do have a little extra money. Most have other kids who do without some things and mustcope with an autistic family member. God gives better things for gifts. A cure is needed.

    • I will only respond in this way…it IS ALL in the way you look at it! I can hear/read you and your family ARE suffering.
      I once heard a phrase that changed my way of thinking from, Why did this happen to me/us/him? What did I do wrong? God has forsaken me, to knowing Autism IS a Gift!
      When you CHANGE the way YOU look at things, the things YOU look at CHANGE!
      When I changed how I saw our situation, Everything, I mean, everything shifted/changed! It did not happen overnight, but, it happened!
      I will ask you a question, you don’t have to respond, I ask you to just ponder it.
      What if your child was born, wanting a different experience than everyone else? What if nothing went wrong? What if it wasn’t a vaccine, the environment, or anything else. What if, he/she could say to you, nothing went wrong Mom, everything is going as planned, now, let’s go and have a blast together? What if, children and adults for that matter, are so tired of everyone trying to make them conform, pigeon hole them, catalog them, they decided to come forth to teach all of us, to be our own person, and not make them like everyone else?
      When I began to see things through my child’s eyes, he has helped me create a wonderful life!
      I didn’t need money, tutors, treatments or anyone else on the outside to begin feeling this way! I did it all by myself!
      If I haven’t convinced you, that is OK, but as for me, my child, my family, AUTISM IS A GIFT!
      With great love and appreciation,

    • “Autism is not a gift. It is a gift to have the capacity to cope with it gracefully.” Very well said. I, too, have never looked at autism as a give or a blessing…my son is a gift and a blessing but his autism is a challenge that takes its toll on him and our family every single day! I’m with you: the best gift would be a cure!

  5. Some gifts are also huge challenges. Our son’s autism is pretty severe, and now that he’s a teenager and we are getting a little older we can see the toll it’s taken on our health, finances and relationships. There are more services for children now than there were when we started our autism journey 11 years ago. I can’t imagine how little help there was 40 years ago, and services for adults with autism are still not keeping up with services for children, likely because of the numbers of newer cases. Still, we are very positive people, but as we get older and our son gets older, it is becoming more difficult to ignore our exhaustion and the resulting health issues. We will probably never get to retire because of financial challenges due to our son’s autism, and our marriage and other relationships suffer much more now than they did when he was younger. Our son is a gift, no doubt, and we love him very much. His autism, however, is a huge challenge that has exhausted us and every aspect of our lives. We have learned to appreciate simple profound priorities, but the older we get we’ve become a lot more tired (and broke) despite our positive attitudes. God bless all of our young and grown children with autism (and w/o) and their parents, and please grace us with the energy, good health, support and financial resources to do what’s best for our children while finding some balance in our lives.

  6. I think autism, like any heartache, has gifts in it if we open our eyes & hearts to learn those lessons.

    Bless you Elly, and bless all our families who have loved ones on the spectrum.!

  7. Very Touching!

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