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Puzzle Run 5k April 1 raises autism awareness
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Runners take off from the start line in last years just for kids leg of the Puzzle Run 5K. - photo by Photo by Corey Brooks

People not directly affected by autism are joining the autism spectrum awareness campaign, according to a local group, as organizers get ready for the third annual Puzzle Run 5K.

The Reaching Milestones clinic in Richmond Hill is hosting the run April 1 at J.F. Gregory Park. The event brings a necessary mix of those in and out the autism community, according to clinical director Melanie Shank.

"We definitely have a lot of people already in the community that have children on the spectrum or family members on the spectrum, but I think the beauty of it - as we start progressing and doing this every year - is we’re going to start attracting people from outside the autism community," Shank said. "And I feel like we’re already starting to see that."

The Puzzle Run 5K is in its the third year. More than 200 registered to run last year.

Shank said they are trying to make it a consistent event that families can look forward to. She also described it as a community builder.

"Our kids and our families need a lot of support - other people that know what they’re going through or other people wanting to learn and become more aware of autism," Shank said. "Because for years it was very hush-hush. Not a lot of people talked about it."

Runners take their mark 9 a.m. for the timed run and a much shorter fun run just for kids starts at 8:45 a.m. The fun run is free.

With bounce houses, flavored ice and face painting, there will be a lot more going on besides running.

"It’s a very family-friendly and kid-friendly event; tons of families out there, kids running around," Shanks said. "It’s a really good time."

Galbreath & Sons, Inc. is partnering with Reaching Milestones as this year’s title sponsor. Reaching Milestones is also partnering with South Bryan County Special Needs Activities Program. Other organizations are donating to help make the event possible.

"Some of our donations are going to them, as well, as the Global Autism Project this year," Shank said of SNAP.

Staff will be on hand to answer questions about autism and the applied behavior analysis, or ABA, therapy provided by Reaching Milestones.

"It’s basically behavior modification," Shank explained. "So, we’re working on anything from increasing communication skills to increasing social skills to increasing daily living skills, as well as decreasing any problem behaviors that may be excessive or that are going on."

Vendors will be under the pavilion, including other service providers, like speech, occupational therapy, and other ABA providers for families to access.

"So, it’s not just us going out there as a provider. We’re really networking with other companies, too. I think that’s really important, to let our families know there’s lots of support out here," Shank said.

She and her family have participated every year and she described the Puzzle Run as an event with a lot of laughing and smiling.

"Everyone’s out there, cheering, and it’s just a really good, positive vibe out there," Shank said.

Registration is currently $40 for adults and $15 for youth. Adult registration increases after March 27, but runners are welcomed to register all the up to the event.

Everyone who registers gets a T-shirt and a medal. First, second, and third place prizes will go out to the top male and female runners by age group.

Shank said participants can use the coupon code RMRH20 for 20 percent off.

Papa’s Pizza To Go in Richmond Hill is holding a fundraiser for the event through April 1, with 20 percent of bills going to the race.

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