Ten-year-old Hunter Thornhill is a high-functioning autistic child, but that wasn’t always the case, said his mother, Holly Thornhill, in an interview last week.
Barefoot Renegade plays during last year’s Kickin’ it for a Cause fundraising event for Autism Speaks. (Photo submitted)
Hunter was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months. He had minimal speech and wasn’t potty trained until the age of four. He simply couldn’t handle any kind of change to his daily routine.
“He would bash his head on the walls and floor,” Thornhill said of Hunter. “If you changed anything, he would go into a total meltdown.”
The young mother, who is now a registered nurse at CareSouth Home Health Care, took a year off from work and enrolled Hunter into intensive speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavioral analysis therapy.
“Working with that really helped ‘pull him into the light,’ as I call it,” she said. “He could look us in the eye ... we could hug him without him pulling away in pain.”
One in every 88 children is autistic, according to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Hunter is not a statistic.
He and Holly are two of our neighbors who are learning to live with this disease that is rapidly becoming more prevalent in our society.
“Autistic children look normal … and so people sometimes judge them because they look normal but they don’t always act normal,” Thornhill said. “The one thing we always told our little boy that he’s different, but he’s not less.”
Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, spoke at the CDC in Atlanta on March 29, calling autism an epidemic and a national emergency.
“We are dealing with a national emergency that is in need of a national strategy,” Roithmayr said. “At 1 in 88, we now have over 1 million children directly affected by autism. According to a newly released study the annual cost of autism in the United States is a staggering $126 billion annually, more than tripling the cost analysis from six years ago.
“Behind all these statistics are real families, real individuals struggling each and every day.”
Autism Speaks holds “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” events across the country to fund research and advocacy, and Thornhill’s mother, Pat Galland, was largely responsible for getting a Walk Now event in Nashville, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 8, at Bicentennial Mall.
“Walk Now” is similar to the well-known American Cancer Society event “Relay for Life” in the sense that teams raise money in advance of the event. Last year, Autism Speaks donated about $1.9 million to Vanderbilt Hospital alone for autism research, Thornhill said.
Thornhill’s Walk Now team, Team Hurricane Hunter, will be holding “Kickin’ it for a Cause 3” from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday at Riverstone Saloon in Murfreesboro, to raise funds for the Walk Now for Autism Speaks event coming up in September. Riverstone Saloon is located at 2146 Thompson Lane.
The cover charge for the event is $10, which all goes to Autism Speaks. Team Hurricane Hunter will also collect funds from a silent auction and a 50-50 raffle during the event. The silent auction will include a Fender Stratocaster that was donated by Chambers Guitars and has been signed by Rascal Flatts.
Two local bands, Josh Sanders and Barefoot Renegade, are donating the “kick” for the cause. There will also be printed materials distributed and speakers between musical sets to help raise awareness about autism.
This year, Kat-e photography and His and Hers Printing have teamed up to make portraits at the Kickin’ event, and half the money from the photos will go to the charity.
As the name implies, this is the third year for the Kickin’ party, which raised $2,000 the first year, and $4,000 last year. This year the goal is $5,000, Thornhill said.
“I’ll take whatever God puts in my hands,” she said.
The public is invited to attend this fun event for a worthy cause. For more information about Autism Speaks or Kickin’ it for a Cause, call Holly Thornhill at 615-496-0550.