AJ autistic boy’s drawing wins 'ZooWalk' T-shirt contest - East Valley Tribune: Health

AJ autistic boy’s drawing wins 'ZooWalk' T-shirt contest

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Friday, September 14, 2012 7:48 am | Updated: 2:03 pm, Sat Sep 15, 2012.

Colby Snead’s favorite animal he likes to draw is a turtle.

And when the time came for judges to decide on the winning drawing that will be used on a T-shirt for the 8th Annual ZooWalk for Autism Research at the Phoenix Zoo next month, they didn’t move with the slow speed of one.

Colby’s drawing of a lineup of four turtles with a rainbow-colored one lying on its back, quickly grabbed the attention of the judges “hands down” who selected it as the winner out of about 100 entries from children and adults who participated in the “Eat, Dine and T-shirt Design Contest” hosted by Culver’s restaurant at 3155 W. Ray Road in Chandler on Aug. 23. The restaurant donated part of that day’s proceeds to Arizona State University’s Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Research Program.

Colby, 7, of Apache Junction, who is autistic, participated in the T-shirt design drawing contest with his sister, Brandy Williams, who helps him with his habilitation.

His drawing will be on thousands of T-shirts that will be worn by the participants during the ZooWalk for Autism Research that is scheduled for 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Oct. 6 at the Phoenix Zoo. It should come as no surprise — the zoo is one of Colby’s favorite places to go.

And next week, Colby will be recognized for a job well done.

On Wednesday, Sept. 19, Colby, the son of Preston and Tamera Snead of Apache Junction, who attends Peaceful Solutions, a private school for special needs children in Mesa, will be recognized by James Adams, an engineering professor at Arizona State University, director of ASU’s Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome Research Program. Colby and his family will receive a free meal at Culver’s, and he’ll also receive 12 T-shirts for him and his family as well as a certificate from ASU.

Colby said that although he drew the other three turtles walking upright, the rainbow-colored one he drew on its back is special, he said, because it’s “me.”

But being special doesn’t come easy for Colby and the other children and adults affected by autism.

Autism, which affects one in 88 children, is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior with symptoms becoming apparent before a child is 3 years old. Similar to Asperger’s syndrome, autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize.

The number of children and adults who are affected by autism has greatly increased in Arizona and the Valley during the last 20 years, rising from 600 to more than 6,000 people who receive services from the Arizona Department of Developmental Disabilities, according to Jim Adams.

This year’s ZooWalk, which raises nearly $300,000 annually from private and corporate donations, is dedicated to a one-year multi-treatment study at ASU for children and adults with autism. The study will involve a combination of special vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, carnitine (to boost energy metabolism) and a special diet that could help individuals with the disorder.

Adams, who was one of the judges in the drawing contest, said, “Many of the drawings were very good, but Colby’s really stood out. We showed his drawing to about 20 parents, and it really touched a lot of hearts and was the winner hands down. He just loves drawing turtles. His favorite place to go is to the Phoenix Zoo where he sees the turtles and giant tortoises.”

In fact, Colby’s family has a year’s pass to the Phoenix Zoo, where he gets to visit the animals about three times a month.

Colby’s father said when they walk across the bridge into the zoo, the first thing Colby does is stop to watch the turtles down in the water for about 30 minutes before he also gets to pet the horses.

“We were surprised,” Preston Snead said of Colby winning the contest. “His sister saw the drawing contest advertised on television and decided to take him to it. He’s just a great kid.”

Another one of Colby’s favorite places is Grace Falls Farm in Gold Canyon, where special needs kids can ride and help take care of the horses.

“Going to the zoo and Grace Falls is good therapy for Colby,” Preston Snead said. “Autistic children don’t do well in crowded or noisy situations, and he really enjoys being around the animals.”

Colby and his family are looking forward to a relaxing meal at Culver’s, know for its frozen custard and butter burgers.

What does Colby like to eat at Culver’s?

“I don’t know,” Adams said. “We’ll find out.”

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