Assaulting Autism In North Alabama

When I got home from Iraq nearly 10 years ago to the day, my husband Steve took me home to a charming two bedroom apartment he had just rented for us, located on Nick Davis Road in Athens. Some of the first neighbors I met were Todd and Tammy Tomerlin and their son Gage. Gage battles with autism, and his struggle was something that was and is intense for all of them. The Tomerlins’ story is not at all that unusual as far as autism families are concerned. Sometimes I would go with the Tomerlins to autism support group meetings in Huntsville, and there I met a single mom who had two daughters, both on the spectrum. I remember being overwhelmed with trying to imagine what she was going through, and so impressed with her passion to find answers for her kids.

Gage was diagnosed with autism at the age of two, and both parents have been fierce advocates for his development as well as his destiny ever since. They have also become quite involved in the lives of other families in Alabama as they all seek to raise awareness and funds to triumph over this heartbreaking condition. Recently, Todd told me on the night of Tammy’s birthday dinner, “She is the glue that holds us together. Without her, we would all fall apart.” I have always loved the way Todd loves his family.

Todd made me laugh as he told me about some of Gage’s current adventures, now that his son is 17. “He can read, but it’s tough to tell how much he comprehends,” Todd said. Then he proceeded to tell me about Gage’s involvement in this past presidential political cycle. Much to his dad’s surprise and even amusement, Gage became a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter. Gage listened to all of Bernie’s speeches, watched the debates with Hillary Clinton, and matter-of-factly told his father that, “Just because I’m from the South doesn’t mean I have to be conservative.” Gage found out that Bernie was going to be speaking in Birmingham, and Todd took him to the rally. It was a breakthrough for Gage, especially because of having to be in a crowd of people, and Todd was thrilled with his boy’s courage. There has never been bad blood between the two of them for having opposing political views, and they talk about everything. As he told me this tale, I thought back to ten years ago when there was a sticker on the window of Todd’s truck advising first responders that an autistic child was on board who might not be able to respond to their inquiries or commands in the event of an accident. Certainly progress had been made, and all of it has been a tough road for everyone. As of now, Gage will be able to be a part of our school system’s resources for special needs kids until he turns 21.

For years the Tomerlins have been involved, especially in the month of April, in the various autism awareness and fund raising events occurring around Alabama. On April 2nd, Todd was on hand at the Limestone County Courthouse for the lighting of the blue lights used to signify the fight against autism. The lights will be on every night all month long.

One of the ways Athenians can help, whether or not their lives have been personally affected by autism is to get involved in “the Walk.” Here is some information on what is going on locally this April 22nd.

Our Walk for Autism throughout cities in Alabama is more than just a Walk or 5k – it’s a fun time for families, friends, coworkers and communities to come together. It’s a time for awareness and acceptance of those on the spectrum.

Since the Walk for Autism and 5k began over a decade ago, the Autism Society of Alabama has raised funds that have been returned to the community in the form of education, advocacy and support. Individuals on the spectrum, their families and communities throughout Alabama have benefited from the generosity of our many donors and supporters. We celebrate them as we look forward to taking our event to even greater heights!

In Athens, there will be a walk held at Athens High School at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22nd. The cost to register is $30, and the Athens event it is a walk only, not a 5-K run. If you are not up to a walk, the event can also use donations as well as volunteers. You can register as a single participant or part of a team at Registration closes at noon on April 20th. Come and be a part of “solving the puzzle” and get to know a community within our community that are some of the bravest amongst us.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner