“I’m there to stick up for her. I want to be able to tell people, because she can’t.”

Joanna Pattinson, Carlisle mum to six-year-old Ava, wants what any loving parent would wish for - her daughter to grow up in a world that accepts and understands her.

But for Joanna, that world needs some work to build. Two years ago, Ava was diagnosed with autism, a spectrum disorder Joanna feels many people are aware of but few people properly understand.

To do her part in helping foster a better understanding of autism, Joanna organised a sponsored walk around Talkin Tarn near Brampton, held on Saturday.

The day was a success, with about 400 people attending and nearly £1,900 raised on the day for the National Autistic Society and for Ava’s school, James Rennie.

With face-painting, a raffle with 40 prizes on offer and even costumed characters in attendance, the walk was part fundraiser, part awareness-raising event.

Joanna hoped that families who came along would take the opportunity to learn a little more about autism.

“People may see someone behave a certain way, but it’s because they have autism, so they should be accepted the way they are,” Joanna said.

“I often go out to places with Ava and get funny looks from people. For instance if she’s flapping her hands, or if she’s having a meltdown.

“I want people to understand why she’s behaving that way.

“I want Ava to be able to grow up knowing that she’s understood, and that she can have the same life as everybody else.”

Being a spectrum disorder, autism affects everyone differently. For Ava, her major obstacle is communication.

“Ava’s non-verbal,” Joanna explained. “They are teaching her Makaton sign language at James Rennie.”

Makaton is similar to British Sign Language, but is designed to support spoken communication rather than entirely replace it.

“She doesn’t say very many words at all. That was one of the first signs we noticed that her development wasn’t going as expected,” Joanna said.

“Because she doesn’t speak, people assume that Ava doesn’t understand. But she understands so much.”

Because communication is difficult for Ava, Joanna feels it is her duty to speak up.

“I want to be able to tell people because she can’t. I’m there to stick up for her. To explain to people why she is the way she is.”

For Joanna and Ava’s dad Kevin, following a strict routine where possible is important for keeping Ava calm.

“When Kevin and I got married last year, we had to take her to the venue a week before so she could have a look around, so she could know where she was going.

“If we don’t follow a strict routine, Ava can have a meltdown.”

Joanna explained that as well as being a distressing experience, a meltdown can also pose a risk to Ava’s safety.

“She has no sense of danger around her,” she said. “It’s horrible to see as a parent, but it’s even more horrible for her because she can’t control it herself.”

Now nearly seven, Joanna says that Ava is gradually becoming more resilient in situations she used to find overwhelming.

“We’ve recently been able to go out to restaurants again,” said Joanna. “For a long time she found it to be a sensory overload. It was just too much for her – too loud, too much going on.”

But when in an environment in which she is comfortable, Ava’s curious and fun-loving personality emerges.

“We do have fun,” Joanna continued. “She loves exploring, she loves wandering about. I’ve learned to use my imagination when taking her places.”

n Joanna's fundraising pages can be found at: http://bit.ly/2XmH5lb and http://bit.ly/2DkjcTw.