Autistic children visit Jacksonville Zoo
Healing Every Autistic Life holds annual zoo walk
Families of autistic children visited the Jacksonville Zoo for Autism Awareness Month.
Healing Every Autistic Life has held their spring zoo walk annually since 2007.
Despite the rain on Sunday, dozens of families participated.
Kelly and Steve Carney, who have an autistic son, said what hurts the most is the social stigma attached to raising an autistic child.
"I think people believe that we just can't control our children, that our kids have big behavior problems, that we're just bad parents," said Kelly Carney. "I think they just need to realize it's something our children and we deal with every single day.
On Sunday, the Carney's son Ryan, 13, was just another kid, surrounded by other children and their families.
"There's no judgment out here. Everybody just appreciates everybody for the individual gifts that they have," said Steve Carney.
According to HEAL's website, the organization has raised more than $1 million to serve Jacksonville-based families affect by autism. The money goes to grants that help support camps, educational programs, community projects, and financial aid for families in Jacksonville,
But the organizers of Sunday's walk said one of the most important things they do is allow families to meet other families.
"To see the other families that are struggling, to support them, and let them know that we're all in this together. They're not alone," said Jim Meyer.
Meyer's daughter Hope, 11, was diagnosed with autism when she was 2-years-old.
"I think when you first find out, I had never even heard the word autism. I didn't even know what it meant," said Meyer. "It gets dark. It gets lonely. You don't know where to turn. Then you realize there's people you can talk to."
HEAL holds programs all year long. The organization's goal is to build a HEAL House, a refuge where therapeutic programs and services can be offered under one roof.
Copyright 2012 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.