For Taylor Risse, a teen living with autism, comic-cons are special.
“I went to the Santa Fe Comic Con a couple of months ago and had a blast,” he said. “I met a couple of movie stars, the guy who played Spike on the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Colin Baker of Dr. Who.”
The eighth Annual Albuquerque Comic Con at the Albuquerque Convention Center kicked off a three-day event Friday, which included the Sensitivity Opening, which accommodated Taylor and other kids living with autism. The Sensitivity Opening was intended to give these children an opportunity to experience the fun of superheroes and comic book characters without being overwhelmed by crowds.
Jim Burleson, owner and promoter of Albuquerque Comic Con, said this is the first year the convention admitted children with autism for free on the first day of the event. There was no age limit for those with autism to attend. Patrons were allowed in with no charge on an honor system by saying they were there for the sensitivity presentation.
“We have a greater percentage of kids dealing with autism in our industry, and it’s a common thing that we have families living with autism that are supporting us and saying, ‘You know, we can’t stay very long, we have a hard time with crowds.’ We wanted them to know we appreciate their support, because they come every year, and it’s huge and growing as a community, and we want them to know they are important to us,” Burleson said.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is mainly characterized by, but not limited to, challenges in social communication and repetitive behaviors, according the University of New Mexico Center for Development and Disability website. However, ASD has many different levels and stages which vary from each individual. The website indicates that a large role in ASD in children is fostered by “advanced parental age” and maternal illnesses.
“ASD is identified in approximately 1 in 68 children. ASD is four to five times more common among boys than girls,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as stated in the UNMH website.
World-famous costumers were available to answer questions on a panel and helped craft masks and capes for the children living with autism, Burleson said. Actors from "The Punisher," "Sobo" and "Frumer" participated with the children as well, he said
Cosplay artist Dava Renee was also available and assisted autistic children in creating colorful costumes at no charge. There were quiet panel rooms for the children, giving them the chance to participate in a quiet atmosphere.
Individuals living with autism of all ages joined Renee in her creative demonstration, she said.
Renee’s own five-year-old son is autistic.
“Think about the entire world that you live in, just amplified,” she said, describing what it is like to live with autism. “Say that somebody (were) to walk by outside, that can distract them, even if they are really into an activity. Kids that are hyposensitive live in a more of a muted world where they don’t feel pain the way we do or hear things the way we do…They are hyper-aware of things around them.”
“Some of the greatest creators we have worked with are autistic. A lot of times they didn’t know it until they came to our show and we were working with a couple of kids with autism, and their guardians were explaining how autism has affected their lives,” Burleson said, adding that the creators were then tested and diagnosed with autism.
He said overall, he expected a 10 percent growth in attendance.
Burleson said he received an overwhelming response from the autistic community that this is the type of event they enjoy attending, as the number of people living with autism continues to increase each year on a large scale.
“These are our people. They are creators. They are our family. They are our community, so why wouldn’t we support them?” he said.
Sherri Barth is a volunteer reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SherriJBarth23.