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Awareness is key to accepting autism

STEPHANIE IP, 24 HOURS
Tanaya Dutchyn and her autistic son Bryce, 10, enjoy some sunshine and
bubbles Sunday at the Canucks Autism Network's Family Festival at Jack Poole Plaza.
Dutchyn runs a blog called bubblesmakehimsmile.com, and writes about her
family's journey with autism. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

Tanaya Dutchyn and her autistic son Bryce, 10, enjoy some sunshine and bubbles Sunday at the Canucks Autism Network's Family Festival at Jack Poole Plaza. Dutchyn runs a blog called bubblesmakehimsmile.com, and writes about her family's journey with autism. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

While studies show one in every 110 B.C. children are born autistic, it's a condition still unfamiliar to many.

"I don't think the world knows enough (about autism)," said Tanaya Dutchyn of her 10-year-old son Bryce's cognitive condition. "More understanding means more acceptance and we need to tell our story."

That was the goal Sunday at the Canucks Autism Network's Family Festival at Jack Poole Plaza where dozens of people participated in a pledge walk. Canucks greats Stan Smyl and Orland Kurtenbach, along with mascot Fin, were also there to lend support, while the Olympic Cauldron was lit to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day Monday.

Dutchyn and her son were on hand with bubble guns in honour of bubblesmakehimsmile.com, a blog about their family's journey since Bryce was diagnosed at age three.

Autism spectrum disorder affects normal brain development and can impact a person's communication and behaviour. While signs of autism vary, some common characteristics are difficulty with social interaction, repetitive interests and unusual attachments to objects or routines.

Sunday's event, which kicked off Autism Awareness Month, saw $1.3 million donated to the Canucks Autism Network (CAN), founded by team owner Paolo Aquilini and his wife Clara. Their son Christian, 18, was diagnosed with autism in 1996.

"Children with autism should enjoy a full and decent life. They should be ensured dignity," Aquilini shared with the crowd. "But 'should' is not good enough. They must have these things."

The province currently provides more than $165 million in annual funding for programs and services that support 7,500 children and youth with autism.

Families with autistic children under the age of six are eligible to receive support program funding up to $22,000 per year. Autistic youth between the ages of six and 18 are eligible for up to $6,000 per year, in addition to the $18,300 per-pupil funding provided through school boards.

CAN was developed to provide autistic youth and their families with year-round sports programs, and to spread awareness of the condition.