Families across the North-east made the most of the dry weather this Good Friday, as they took part in our first-ever Virtual Walk for Autism Acceptance.

Autistic children, young, people and adults across the region, along with their families, friends and the staff who support them, stepped out on World Autism Acceptance Day (April 2nd).

The walk, which usually attracts large crowds to Sunderland’s Herrington Country Park, looked a little different this year due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, however NEAS’s message of acceptance remained the same and people still got into the spirit of the day, with many donning fancy dress for the occasion.

And with the walk going online this year for the first time ever, people will be heading out to complete their individual walks over the long weekend.

Six-year-old Jacob Sinclair, who is autistic and has mobility issues, has so far raised almost £700 for the North East Autism Society, after telling his mum he wanted to walk five miles, dressed as Super Mario, to help other autistic people like him.

“I was on the NEAS website one day and Jacob appeared behind me and saw an advert for the walk. He said, ‘Mammy can we do the walk because I have autism and I'm so special and everyone should know that I'm just like them’,” Jacob’s mum, from Sunderland, said.

That was so emotional for me - not only was that the first time he had said the word autism, but in the same breath he said ‘I am special’. And for me, as a parent, that is what it’s all about – acceptance and championing neurodiversity.

The Society, which provides, schools, further education, residential care, toddler and youth groups, employment and day services said the safety of its supporters, employees, and the people they aim to serve was at the forefront of its planning.

Kevin Meikle, fundraising manager for the North East Autism Society, said: “Autism Acceptance Week looks a little different this year - but our message remains the same.

Being aware of autism and autistic people requires very little – acceptance is much less passive. It requires boots on the ground – so what better way to show support than to take part in the walk.

To mark Autism Acceptance Week (March 29 – April 4) the Society has put on a number of events, including its groundbreaking Acceptance Matters Virtual Conference on Thursday, which attracted more than 500 people to sign up from across the globe and included a packed line-up including autistic speakers and practitioners.

Many North-east landmarks, including the Northern Spire Bridge, Penshaw Monument and Fulwell Mill, also lit up gold in celebration of the week. And the Life Science Centre in Newcastle became the first visitor attraction to be awarded the Gold Standard Autism Acceptance Award by NEAS.

Find out more about Autism Acceptance Week.