Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at a festival in downtown Vancouver, intended to boost public awareness about and acceptance of autism, a neurodevelopment disorder that affects one in 68 kids born in the province of British Columbia in west Canada.
The festival, which is in its fourth year, is hosted by the Canucks Autism Network, a charity created in 2008 by the owners of the Vancouver Canucks, the city's popular professional ice hockey team.
The annual event garners massive exposure thanks in part to its link to the local hockey team.
In the crowd of spectators, Tayana Forsyth said she had been bringing her 14-year-old autistic son Bryce to the event each year.
"Spreading awareness is important. I think it leads to acceptance and that's the goal," said Forsyth, who also writes a blog to share the challenges and joys of loving someone who lives with autism.
Acceptance makes people understand autism a bit better, she said.
Besides promoting awareness, the festival is also a major event to raise funds to help provide services to families who live with autism on a daily basis.
Fund raised at the festival and by the network helps to support sports, social events and employment programs for kids and young adults with autism.
Robbie Cruikshank set the record this year by raising more than 65,000 Canadian dollars (52,000 U.S. dollars) in donations.
"I care about what goes on with the Canucks Autism Network because I have autism, and I just like to help spread the word and raise awareness and make sure it's heard," Cruikshank said.
The president of the Canucks, Trevor Linden, said the key to the success of the festival and the autism network lies in team effort, similar to that of his hockey team.
Paulo Aquilini, co-owner of the Canucks and co-founder of the network, had his own son Christian diagnosed with autism 19 years ago. The journey of his family inspired him to bring other families together to tackle the challenge.
"We still need to continue to strive towards," Aquilini said. Endi