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Advocating for autism: Ambassador chosen to lead 8th Annual Autism Speaks 8th Annual Autism Speaks Canada Walk

February 29, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

The 2024 Autism Speaks Canada (ASC) Walk Ambassador for Orangeville has been named, and efforts are already underway to fundraise and raise awareness for a cause that impacts him personally. 

Solomon Vahey, 11, will be the local face and voice of autism for ASC from now until September 29, when the 8th Annual Orangeville and Area ASC Walk comes to Fendley Park. The announcement was made in early February. 

Solomon, who was diagnosed with autism at age five, told the Citizen he’s excited to take on the role of ambassador and lead the walk. 

The goal of the walk, and several community events leading up to it, is to raise $20,000 for ASC and increase understanding among the public about what autism is and how it impacts everyone differently. 

“We’re trying to educate people, spread awareness, and increase acceptance, because even though we’ve come so far, there’s just so much more that we need to do,” said Karrie Daponte, lead walk organizer. “Almost every day, either at school or in the community, [autism] families deal with those stares or those looks, people laughing, making comments.”

Solomon is a Gestalt language learner, meaning he processes language as “strings of sounds” or “chunks” rather than processing single words. 

More commonly, children develop language as analytic language processors, meaning they learn language in a sequential order. They first learn a word and then combine it with other words before moving on to full sentences. 

Not all gestalt language learners have autism, but many verbal children on the autism spectrum use this mode of communication. They may use quotes from movies or phrases to communicate a statement, emotion or question.

Petho noted the importance of having kids with autism who may act, think or learn differently, be leaders through the ASC Walk’s ambassador role.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for him to show that even kids who don’t speak the same way as others still have a chance to have a voice and be represented in the community,” she said.

“Being different or speaking differently doesn’t mean that you’re less than, you’re still a part of the community. It’s important to be seen and heard, even if you don’t communicate the same way as others.”

Solomon is very active in Orangeville and loves the town. He plays hockey at the Alder Arena with the Orangeville Wolves, a member club of Special Hockey International (SHI). SHI provides programming to children and adults who have special needs.

“He’s an outgoing kid, he really likes to interact in the community,” Petho noted. “He does a lot – he volunteers, even with the horticultural society, he helps do the gardens. He’s been a volunteer since he was six.” 

He also regularly participates in swimming and skating lessons locally.

Walk ambassadors are chosen from across the autism spectrum, with some past ambassadors having strong verbal skills and others being entirely non-verbal.

“We try to kind of bring something different from this spectrum every year,” said Daponte.

The walk itself is one to three kilometres and on the day of the event, there will be activities for kids, a vendor market, and a festive atmosphere.

 “It’s a fun filled morning for families,” said Daponte. “They don’t have to worry about what people are going to think…everybody that comes there is so supportive [of the autism community].”

Looking ahead, there’s a handful of fundraisers coming up to help reach the $20,000 target for ASC. 

An ongoing bottle drive, running now until September 30, is underway. Those interested in donating can email to coordinate drop-off or pick-up.

M&M Food Market in Orangeville will donate 10 per cent of its sales on April 18.

Organizers of the Party Rocker Dance in Shelburne will donate a portion of ticket sales on May 3

And Boston Pizza in Orangeville is hosting a “Celebrity Server” night starring Solomon on May 6.

Throughout that evening, 10 per cent of food sales will be donated. 

Donations to ASC go towards innovative autism research and life-enhancing services for those on the spectrum. 

To register a team or donate, visit

To stay up to date with the local ASC Walk, follow the “Autism Speaks Canada – Orangeville” Facebook Page:




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