SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Turnbow Elementary School self-contained special education teacher Cameron Thomas is participating in the 31st annual Arkansas Traveller 100 race through the Ouachita National Forest Oct. 1 to help raise funds in support of the autistic community.

“Teaching and working with individuals with autism has always been a huge inspiration for me,” Thomas said. “They have taught me so much about patience, compassion, perseverance and dedication. I use those same qualities in my personal life and my passion for running and exercise.”

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. About one in 54 children is on the autism spectrum.

Thomas, 35, lives in Fayetteville and began running about five years ago, but really began to take the sport seriously over the last three years, he said.

“The last two years, I started running half-marathons, marathons, 50K runs, and now I am taking on the 100-miler,” he added. The community can support Thomas and those with autism by donating to Autism Speaks, Thomas said.

“This organization provides many critical resources to families and professionals in order to understand and learn more about autism,” he said.

Autism Speaks is an autism advocacy organization and the largest autism research organization in the United States, according to the nonprofit’s website. It sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach initiatives geared toward families, governments and the public.

Individuals with autism have always been inspiring for Thomas, he said. 

“I have always felt a strong connection with this population and found myself volunteering at summer camps and working in a variety of settings, high school and transitioning students to adult care facilities,” he said. “I provided respite services for some families, and now I am enjoying working with younger elementary age students.”

The educator is in his third year of teaching with Springdale Schools and hopes to make a difference by running the Arkansas Traveller.

“I just want to raise awareness of the need for resources and access to quality care for these individuals and their families. I want people to see autism differently and focus on acceptance and inclusion,” he said, adding that Springdale Schools does a great job of focusing on inclusive services and best practices.

The community can support Thomas’ efforts by donating here.