The clouds parted, the wind died down, and the rain pouring down on Cottonwood Island Park came to an abrupt halt.
Just in time for the start of Saturday's Northern Interior Autism Society awareness walk.
For walk organizer Rhonda White and the kids, parents and grandparents who showed up for the hike to Fort George Park and a post-walk barbecue, the weather wasn't their only concern when they woke up Saturday morning.
They also wanted to make sure their walk would help educate the public about autism, an often misunderstood neurological disorder that affects one out of every 55 kids born in Canada.
"We want to bring the community together because autism is a social and communication disorder, so a lot of people don't network, and we're trying to help families network," said White, whose nine-year-old son Joey is autistic.
"The first person was diagnosed with autism in 1984, it hasn't been around very long. We just want people to be aware it's not as scary as some people think it is."
Autism affects the brain's ability to process information, impairing perception, intuition and the ability to draw logical conclusions. It causes delays in speech development and impairs social interactions. It is sometimes characterized by repetitive behaviour, adhering to strict routines, and focusing on a single task or activity, such as watching a particular TV program.
"People judge with their eyes, they don't understand some kids can't control what they say, what their body does, and some people construe it as a behavioural problem," said White.
"Every kid with autism is different. People stereotype them and think they're like Rain Man [the movie about an autistic character played by Dustin Hoffman]. They think they can't live in our world, can't function in our world, and that's not true."
White says with proper intervention and continual behavioural and speech therapy, people with autism are able to become functioning and productive members of society who can learn how to act appropriately in social situations.
Joey didn't talk until he was four but has responded well to therapy and now attends full-time kindergarten classes at the Montessori school, which, due to last week's fire, was forced to move from Highland elementary school to Gladstone in College Heights.
"He has triggers and because he doesn't understand how to deal with the situation, he acts out," said White. "That can be anything from getting upset, crying, jumping, pushing, kicking. But he has an aide in the classroom who is able to identify the triggers and talk him down."
Early detection, before 18 months after birth, is key in triggering better responses to treatment. There is no known cure. According to the Mayo clinic website, warning signs include lack of eye contact, resistance to cuddling or holding, slow speech development, loss of ability to say words or sentences, the inability to start or maintain a conversation or understand simple instructions, lack of awareness of others' feelings, and a preference for playing alone.
Behavioural problems such as repetitive or constant movement or rocking; sensitivity to light, sound or touch; craving for non-food items like chalk or dirt; a fascination with details of an object like the wheels of a toy car; and performing physically harmful activities can also indicate autism.
Because it is not easily diagnosed, many parents miss out on financial support from the province, available to them until the child turns six. Once that age threshold is reached, funding reverts to the school.
This was the second year for the autism walk in Prince George. Cathie Roney was there Saturday with her daughter-in-law Hillary and grandson Joey, a five-year-old with autism. Roney said it can be difficult to get a proper diagnosis, the symptoms instead categorized as attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity.
"I would just like people to know they don't have to be scared of the kids," said Roney.
"Hillary has a lot of problems with people not understanding and thinking she's just a bad parent because Joey 'looks normal.' Lots of times there is no help for parents, until they get that diagnosis. You can't go by textbooks, you have to go be real-life experiences."
For more information, go to the Autism Community Training B.C. website at actcommunity.net.