by Alison Houston
TAKE a Hike on Sunday, April 22 and discover exactly how the AEIOU Foundation changes the lives of young children with autism in Toowoomba.
Chief executive officer Alan Smith, who each year takes part in the three hikes in Toowoomba, Brisbane and Townsville, said Toowoomba had always been his favourite event.
"The community is so engaging, so supportive," Alan said.
He used to have quite a bit of time to get to know his fellow walkers, with the hike traditionally covering 40km.
For the past two years, the distances have changed to your choice of 5km, 10.5km or 21 km, embracing all abilities.
"We get a lot broader cross-section of the community involved this way," Alan said.
"And this is first and foremost about raising awareness; the fundraising is a bonus.
"There's no pressure on anybody, but if they can raise a couple of hundred dollars and have fun along the way, that's great."
Proof of his sincerity is that since changing the event, funds raised have dropped by about $50,000, but the number of participants has doubled.
But since the foundation runs "on the smell of an oily rag" and resources and toys "get broken again, and again and again" so that new ones are constantly required, more residents are needed to put their best foot forward for the kids.
And that's what this is all about.
Corporate Affairs manager Deborah Whiteoak said Toowoomba AEIOU provided therapy for up to 15 children aged 2-6 years each year, and across Queensland AEIOU has helped about 1000 children make life-long changes since its establishment in 2005.
Generally children will spend two years at the centre, with research showing early intervention (20 hours of intensive therapy a week for two years) is vital to help kids with autism develop "all those skills other kids may take for granted" and achieve the best outcomes.
Those outcomes, Deborah said, are "extraordinary", with children often coming to the centre with no communication, no self-care skills (including feeding and toileting), having problems with social skills and challenging behaviours.
They leave with all these core skills, ready to reach their full potential, with many transitioning to the general school system and others, who may have other intellectual or development difficulties, set up with independence skills that "can change their whole life trajectory".
Also a regular Take a Hike participant, Deborah said "nothing beats that feeling of being part of a collective group and knowing you are doing something positive for the community".
She said participants covered all age-groups, with a number older people walking with grandchildren, as well as family groups, singles and teams.
Among first-time walkers this year will be Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio, a supporter of AEIOU and Take a Hike for several years.
"I'm thrilled that they have invited me to walk with them," the mayor said, encouraging others in business and the general community to register.
"Toowoomba is a community that cares about itself and it's always so heartening to see such community support and spirit in helping to achieve the best outcomes for the young people in our community who have an extra challenge."
Sign up now or find details at takeahike.org.au.