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Puzzle Paces set for March 31 at Bristol Motor Speedway

Suzi McKee • Mar 6, 2018 at 4:30 PM


Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that is part of a group of pervasive developmental disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It significantly affects how a person perceives the world, interacts with others, and communicates. Data estimates that 1 out of every 68 children born today will receive a diagnosis of ASD. With these statistics in mind, the Autism Society of East Tennessee is diligently working with families and support groups to improve the lives of all persons impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorders. And they want to help connect the “missing pieces” for diagnosed individuals as well as their families.

Kandis Burney is the executive director of the Autism Society of East Tennessee; she makes the drive up from Knoxville weekly to meet and work with board members like Melissa Cole who has a personal interest in helping the community to become more compassionate and caring towards ASD-impacted families. Melissa’s son who is now 20 was diagnosed at the age of 11.

“Autism is one of the most misdiagnosed diseases,” Melissa shared. “Usually because of the behaviors, it’s defined as ADHD. Melissa, who was once a biologist, changed career paths and is now a board certified behavior analyst working with children affected by autism and she volunteers with the Autism Society of East Tennessee.

Kandis has a sister with spina bifida and a cousin who is non-verbal so she felt the calling to get involved with the society and work to provide more accessibility through collaboration, education and support services to local families.

“There is a saying that says ‘If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met ONE kid with autism,’ meaning that each diagnosis or missing piece of the puzzle is different for each child. In fact, the autism spectrum is as long as it is wide,” Kandis continued.

What are the pieces that can be missing from the life of a person with autism? Some of the common characteristics include lack of communication skills, limited social interaction skills, sensory sensitivities, exceptional abilities, routine or systematic preferences that result in meltdowns which are not tantrums, and behavioral challenges. “Lack of eye contact and delayed verbal skills are indicators in childhood autism,” Melissa explained. “Those are early signs that indicate that family members should seek professional opinions about their child.”

Community support is vital in encouraging caregivers for those diagnosed with autism. With stress levels for mothers of autistic children comparable to combat soldiers, holocaust survivors and parents of children with cancer, both Melissa and Kandis are committed to making life just a little more pleasurable for families of children who are impacted by autism.

In order to facilitate education and to connect them with compassion and celebration, the Autism Society of East Tennessee is hosting Puzzle Paces Walk for Autism 2018 on March 31 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

There, participants will be able to enjoy facepainting, crafts, interactive games, food, hot air balloon rides, and inflatables. Eighty cents from each dollar raised will be returned to the Autism Community Center located at 403 Harrison Street in Johnson City. The center has recreation areas, conference rooms for support groups, a small store where teens can work to sell items to help raise more funds, and a calming room for those who need a quiet moment to gather their thoughts. The kitchen area allows adults to teach teens cooking skills, and once a washer and dryer are obtained, life skills about laundry.

The Autism Society of East Tennessee (www.asaetc.org) has a myriad of information about all of their events and activities for families to participate in. For the Puzzle Paces Walk, the group is seeking vendors to help make this an exceptional experience for those who come.

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