"Walk Now for Autism Speaks" serves as fundraiser

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Last month, the CDC announced one in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. This is a 30% increase from 1 in 88 children two years ago. This week, people across the world marked World Autism Awareness Day -- and on Saturday, April 5th in Milwaukee, a special event was held with the goal of funding vital research that will lead to answers in the battle against autism.

Blue puzzle pieces and the color blue filled the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday morning, April 5th -- as more than 5,000 took part in the "Walk Now for Autism Speaks" event.

"It`s very important to raise these funds. It's towards vital research and more than $800,000 has been funded through efforts in Wisconsin alone," Brittany Dorfner with Walk Now for Autism Speaks said.

The event included three indoor walk routes around the BMO Harris Bradley Center and an outdoor walk option around Milwaukee's downtown RiverWalk District.

Also on hand were 50+ businesses that support the autism community. Representatives were available in a "Sponsor Area," a "Resource Fair" and an "Adult Loft."

Participants also had the opportunity to meet other families affected by autism.

"Our team raised about $8,500 this year," Jim Crawford, who is fundraising for his grandson said.

Every penny counts, because each of the families involved in Saturday's event has a unique story.

"We started walking for my son who was diagnosed when he was two," Amber Bray said.

Bray's son cut the ribbon at the event. Bray says early intervention is key when dealing with an autism diagnosis.

"He has come mountains from where he was. He still has a long way to go, but to see the improvements -- it's amazing," Bray said.

Families say the resources available in the fight against autism are helpful.

"They helped Jack get some of the treatments he's been having since he was two. When he started with the program, he really wasn't talking at all. Now he is caught up for the most part in his speech, up to grade level in most of his studies in school and doing great," Jim Crawford said.

Members of the Milwaukee Bucks and the FOX6 News team were on hand for Saturday's event.

Saturday night, the Bucks host "Autism Speaks Night." Those who attended the event on Saturday morning were able to obtain a discounted ticket to the Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors game.

With each step they took on Saturday inside the BMO Harris Bradley Center, those involved hoped it would be one step closer to finding a cause and a cure for autism.

"It's growing. I hope for answers to find out what causes this -- or more interventions to make life easier for these children," Bray said.

Event organizers hoped to raise more than $250,000 from Saturday's event.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the "Walk Now for Autism Speaks" event.