5,000 rubber ducks shot into Mohawk River to promote autism awareness

October 06, 2018 06:43 PM

SCHENECTADY - In Schenectady on Saturday, thousands of ducks were released into the Mohawk River in an unconventional manner, but for a very specific reason.

Five-thousand rubber ducks shot from a cannon into the Mohawk River can make quite a splash. However, it has nothing to with hitting the water. The third Annual Duck Derby is designed to promote autism awareness.

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"The way I look at it, like families here -- we're on a journey together to overcome the challenges of living with autism," explained Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.

Santabarbara has a 16-year old son, Michael, who has autism. By organizing this "Family Day" event at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady, he's determined to show the world that disabilities don't define people.

"This is their chance to really talk about what their challenges are and how we can help. Sometimes, they're little things. Sometimes, they're big things, but they all need to be addressed," Santabarbara pointed out.

Santabarbara understands all too well the fear many families have, and the stigma many people often associate with autism.

"You're not sure really what to expect when you come to something like this," admitted Brenda Sebast of Amsterdam.

She says there was a time when she was reluctant to bring her son, Ryan, to an event like this.

"Not anymore. I'm pretty confident now when I come. I've kind of made some friends and kind of opened to talk to more people," she explained.

That confidence that has allowed more and more parents of kids with autism to come out of the shadows, according to Pediatrician Govind Rao, makes all the difference in the world.

"When I started my practice 48 years ago, autism – it was like a stigma for the parents. Not anymore. I don't see that at all. I think they're encouraged, they're much more involved with the children now and they're not afraid of getting attached to the children and going to all the treatment that they can," she noted.

In addition, Dr. Rao says money raised by the ducks pays for scientific research that has led to recent breakthroughs in new medications and developments in new occupational and behavioral therapies for kids with autism. That's why these ducks are making a big splash.

"There's this crisis for support services that really needs our attention, because the numbers are alarming and people are being left behind," noted Santabarbara.

Whether people are investing in rubber ducks or raffle tickets, they're raising money and awareness for autism. At the same time, they're allowing families of kids with autism to share their challenges. That way, they'll be better able to be a part of a community.


Dan Levy

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