Autism walk makes son a winner

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, June 27, 2012

by Jennifer Barnum

“I am a winner.”

These are the exact words that my 7-year-old son, Eli Barnum, shouted as he crossed the finish line at the Autism Society Central Virginia 5K Run/Walk.

My entire family has been participating in the event in Richmond for the past five years, and it has become one of our favorite days of the year. It is a time where my family and friends get together and raise awareness about autism.

Eli was diagnosed with autism in 2008. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism.

The prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 110 births in the United States and almost one in 70 boys.

My husband and I often wonder what Eli thinks of the ASCV walk that we participate in every year. We often speak the word “autism” around Eli, but have not had a “formal” conversation telling him that he has autism. He has yet to question why we walk, why we wear shirts with his picture on them and why he sees so many familiar faces at the event.

My husband and I are looking forward to the day that Eli asks “why do we participate in this event?” I imagine our response will go something like this:

• We walk because you are our son … our only son. We walk because you are ours!

• We walk because you are brave without knowing it. You encounter noises and textures on a daily basis that make your body uncomfortable yet you continue on. We walk because you make us proud.

• We walk because you teach us how to be a better person. You have made us better parents and more compassionate people. We walk because you are a gift.

• We walk because you are smart. You see things in such a different way. You see the small joys in a spinning washing machine, an opening door or the smell of bubble gum. We walk because you give us insight.

• We walk because other families do not have support that we are blessed with. We walk for more information and research.

• We walk because one day a person will tell you that you are different and not typical and they won’t do it nicely. We walk for understanding.

• We walk because you are a son, a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin and a friend to many. We walk because autism has affected all who love you.

This year Team bELIeve came in second place for the highest fundraising team, and I was the 2012 top individual fundraiser for the ASCV 5K — a very big accomplishment.

All funds raised will stay within the greater Richmond area, providing much needed support to families and individuals with autism. For our family, the ASCV 5K event is a very meaningful way to celebrate that Eli will always be a winner in our eyes.

JENNIFER PARTRIDGE BARUM lives in Mechanicsville and is the daughter of Bill and Sandra Partridge of Drewryville. She can be reached at