Rebekka Lynn is a straight-A student, starting her freshman year at Cody High School and is passionate about art and writing. The teenager from Cody, Wyo., volunteers at the library, where she’s good at organizing books, and at the local Humane Society.
Rebekka, 14, speaks Spanish and Japanese in addition to English. Her first word was “hola” — Spanish for “hello.”
But Rebekka didn’t utter that word until she was 4½ years old, said her mother, Jennifer Gould, a certified nursing assistant at New Horizons Care Center in Lovell. Gould also works at North West Family Planning in Powell.
Those first words came after three years of therapy with nobody knowing if she’d ever speak. Rebekka communicated through basic sign language.
The Spanish was a surprise, Gould said, but her daughter watched a lot of “Dora the Explorer,” an animated educational television show for children.
Gould noticed there was something quirky about Rebekka’s behavior when she was 7 months old. Her baby didn’t really play or crawl or make much noise, but went from sitting to walking. She was a happy kid but hated sleeping.
When Rebekka was 2, doctors diagnosed her with autism, Gould said. She also has epilepsy.
Rebekka has made much progress since then and is excited to participate in an annual walk in Laurel on Sept. 8 to raise money and awareness about autism, Gould said.
Sponsored by Autism Speaks, an advocacy and research organization, the event will be held at the Laurel Sports Complex, 203 East 8th Street, in Laurel. The 5-kilometer, non-competitive walk through Laurel will begin with registration at 1 p.m. and opening ceremonies at 2 p.m.
There is no registration fee or minimum donation to participate, but donations are encouraged.
This year’s event is the third-annual walk. The event raised $25,000 in its first year in 2011. Donations more than tripled to $90,000 raised last year, Gould said.
Money that is raised supports research, provides family service grants and iPad grants to families in need. The Laurel walk is the only Autism Speaks event in Montana and Wyoming.
Autism includes a range of brain development disorders that are characterized by difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. One in 88 children in the United States has some form of the disorder.
Participating in last year’s walk changed her and her daughter’s lives, said Gould, who is assisting organizing this year’s event.
Rebekka, she said, tells her, “I get to see people like me. I am not the only one.”
Rebekka struggles with overstimulation — going into a big discount store can be a nightmare, Gould said. And people with autism have difficulty socializing, she added.
As Rebekka has grown, her life has gotten easier, Gould said. The Cody school system has teachers who are knowledgeable about autism and supportive of students with the disorder, she said. Her daughter is integrated into a regular classroom and has an aide, she said.
“Life is really good for her right now. She’s not dumb by any means. I am so proud to be her mama and I can’t wait to see her future,” Gould said.