Autism speaks, Opelika listens: Motorcycle event to benefit local families with autism

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By Rebekah Martin

Assistant Editor

The 2nd annual Angels Riding for Autism Motorcycle Benefit and Band Bash is slated for Sept. 20 at Spring Villa Park in Opelika.

The event is coordinated by Luanne Helms, an Opelika mother of a child with autism. “I had always thought that somebody should help our families living with autism,” Helms said. “One day I realized that I was that somebody. I could do it as well or better as anyone else.”

The world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, defines autism as a neurological disorder that mainly affects social and communication skills. The disorder covers a large spectrum of symptoms, skills and levels of impairment. It ranges in severity from a handicap that somewhat limits an otherwise normal life to a devastating disability.

“When my son, Jake, was diagnosed with autism in 2002 as a toddler, 1 out of 150 children were being diagnosed with autism. It is now at 1 out of 68,” Helms said. “It is definitely on the rise. There has been a 78 percent increase in children diagnosed with autism in the last decade.”

Since her son’s diagnosis, Helms has dedicated herself to helping provide a support system for other families struggling with the affects of autism. “Raising awareness and providing a network of support for those affected is essential to living with autism,” Helms said.

Out of Helms’ passion for helping victims of autism cope was born the Angels Riding for Autism event. “I began planning activities in 2012, mainly relying on donations,” Helms said. “I had to come up with a plan to raise money.”

After securing sponsors and rallying community support, the event has grown in more ways than Helms ever imagined.

“We had 89 bikes at last year’s ride and over 400 participants,” Helms said. “We are expecting to double those numbers.”

The following local artists will be performing throughout the event: Britney Avery at 11 a.m., Hollow Sky at 11:45 a.m., Junior Cardiel at 12:30 p.m., August Redemption at 1:15 p.m. and Marc Kenney 2 p.m.

Bama Jama BBQ, a car display, bouncy houses and other vendors will be on site. Registration for riders will begin at 8:30 a.m., and gates will open to the public at 11 a.m. Tickets are $20 per bike and $5 for general admission.

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