Photos + story: Salem High community supports Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center with a walk and 5K
*Update 4:30 p.m. April 2: Mark Ingerson tells us they’ve raised almost $3,500 for BRAAC
Over 100 people turned out for “Kaeden’s Day Walk and 5K” at the Salem High School track on Saturday, March 31 to benefit the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center.
The Spartans’ girls soccer team and many local families and former students who know Mark and Sharon Ingerson walked or ran. The SHS culinary arts class “Gourmet Foods” provided cinnamon rolls for sale and the Salem Singers
sang the national anthem before the event created special lyrics to the tune of “Ray’s Rockhouse” that suited the occasion.
Winners of the 5K include:
Adult (over 18): 1st Girls soccer coach Josh Jones, 2nd assistant girls soccer coach Taylor Davis, 3rd Sharon Ingerson (Kaeden’s mom)
Under 18s: 1st Olivia Raines, 2nd Alesea Wimmer, 3rd Sierra Sallah
Kids: 1st Luis Geyne
Seventeen months ago, Kaeden Ingerson began attending the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center after a public preschool for kids with disabilities didn’t work out. He had trouble riding any distance in a vehicle, playing normally, along with a variety of other autistic behaviors that made life difficult for the Ingerson family and learning almost impossible.
Mark Ingerson, Kaeden’s dad and a teacher at Salem High School, says the walk is a thank you to the BRAAC: “We at least have a lot more normal moments, and we’re really appreciative for that.”
Thanks to the applied behavioral analysis approach BRAAC uses to “re-train” the brain, said Ingerson, Kaeden can sit still to listen to a preschool story, he knows his alphabet and is learning lots of numbers. He doesn’t do as much “stimming,” an autistic terminology that describes self-stimulating behavior like repetitive motions, like scratching on a spot on the wall or fixating on a blade of grass.
“If you lived with him, you would understand that it’s miraculous,” he said, adding that they hope Kaeden will be able to return to public school soon. BRAAC therapists work systematically and spend lots of time with their students, even coming into the home, visiting the grocery store, or riding in the car to help parents and caregivers understand how to help.
“I knew enough to know that I didn’t know enough,” Ingerson said, even as a public school teacher. The Ingersons hired a specialist to advocate for Kaeden’s placement in BRAAC through Roanoke County Schools. They’re lucky, Mark said. The families of most children who attend pay the hefty tuition out-of-pocket, he said.
-Miranda Beck, So Salem