LITTLE BOSTON — What Trisha Price-Ives wants for her son, Manny, is acceptance.
Manny was diagnosed with autism seven years ago, when he was 2. Back then, Price-Ives was told the rate of diagnosis was one in every 150 children. Now, she said, it’s about one in every 88.
The Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center describes autism as “a complex neurobiological disorder that interferes with normal development in language, social interaction and behavior.” Treatment can include various therapies and diet.
“It’s not just in our community, it’s really on the rise around the country,” Price-Ives said. She’s noticing it more on the Port Gamble S’Klallam reservation, where she and her family live, but she thinks it may be because the community is so tight — everyone knows everyone.
A big part of the community turns out every year for the Autism Awareness Walk, organized by Price-Ives and Manny’s father, Jimmy Price. Around 200 gathered for the sixth annual walk on Wednesday, wearing matching T-shirts and chatting as they walked from the Gliding Eagle Marketplace to the Tribal Center.
Price-Ives and Price also teamed up with the Suquamish Youth Center for an awareness walk on Division Street in Suquamish Thursday evening.
Jeff Purser, Manny’s uncle, said the walk brings people together, including families dealing with autism.
“There are more kids than there used to be. It used to be rare,” he said.
Ed Fox, director of health services at Port Gamble S’Klallam, said, “Indian Country is similar to the general population, in that, yes, indeed there is more autism.”
Price is the bus driver for the S’Klallam Tribe’s Head Start program, and has been actively involved in raising autism awareness since his son was diagnosed.
Head Start students walked on Wednesday as well, and teacher Kyle Carpenter said it’s important children understand what autism is, so they can appreciate it and not judge. Kari Decoteau, a former Head Start teacher who said she’s never missed an Autism Awareness Walk, agreed. “It’s critical [children] recognize the gifts each one brings into the classroom,” she said. “It opens their eyes to the gifts that each one has and appreciates them.”
Understanding leads to acceptance. Price-Ives said every child with autism has “different struggles.” When a child with special needs like autism is “having a meltdown” in public, he or she is not being a “spoiled brat,” she said.
Price-Ives said she has sought out most of the support programs for Manny in the area, without much luck. Medicaid often doesn’t pay for occupational or behavioral therapy, and she said the Olympic Peninsula Autism Center in Silverdale wasn’t able to accommodate Manny’s needs.
Manny attends Gordon Elementary School; Price-Ives praises the school staff for their help with him.
“[Autism] is out there, be patient with it,” Price-Ives said. “We just need to raise awareness [about] what these kids go through.”