Your child is autistic – Four of the most frightening words any parent can hear.

You need answers…immediately. Why my child? Will my child ever have what we consider a normal life? What are the routine treatments my kid can receive today, to ensure a more enriching life tomorrow?

But the answers? – They’re not there. You hear words like “spectrum,” and learn that each child is an individual case. Though so similar, what works for Timmy may not work for Abby.

…and then the heavy load settles in, weighing on your shoulders. A cavern of loneliness, of misguided guilt and desperation opens in your chest. Tears…

Stop it. Because you are anything BUT…alone…Hear these words:

Welcome to the beginning of your journey. Welcome to strength and determination you never knew you had. Welcome to a completely new view of the world…that begins and ends with the eternal, everlasting undying love you have for your child.

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I want you to hear from the Woodring Family’. Zachary is now 10-years-old, and the rock star of Zach’s Pack. He’s the inspiration behind the annual Shoot Out for Autism, returning this June to Ozarks Shooters Sports Complex. This is truly candid insight from Mom and Dad, Michael and Heather, on their family’s journey:

Heather, Zach and Michael Woodring
Heather, Zach and Michael Woodring

Our family has grown so much in the years since the diagnosis. This disorder has shaped us and our path in life. When we began our journey we longed for a cure – it was what we wanted, what we needed – it was the light at the end of the tunnel, an end goal.

The hope of a cure kept us pushing and hopeful for the future. But so many years have passed now. Special diets have been tried, therapies implemented, shots given, supplements forced, an entire menagerie of trials completed…and Autism is still with us.

Despite the struggles we are making it, enjoying our family and cherishing each bit of progress along the way. Zachary has grown into a wonderful and energetic 10 year old who continues to inspire US and countless others to be better people. He cannot write, he cannot have a conversation with us, he still requires assistance for bathing, dressing, and using the restroom, and much of the time he is in his own world – but every time a connection is made through a song or a smile we know we are fortunate.

And what if there were a cure? What would that cure be? Just what would it take? How would that affect our son, his future, and our lives?

The little boy we love…the one with the bright eyes and boundless energy, the one with the quirky behaviors we’ve embraced…What if he no longer rubbed the toe of his shoe across the ground until he wore away the sole, what if he stopped incessantly wiping at every spot that caught his eye on walls and floors, what if he quit chewing holes in the collar of his shirts, what if he stopped constantly scripting every movie line he’d ever heard? Would we miss all of the things that make him who we’ve known the past 10 years? These are the challenges of today that barricade the path to a brighter future. If only we could spend a day in his shoes, and see the world and all its challenges from his point of view. Our hope is that Zachary will eventually engage us in conversation and explain so much of the mystery from years past.

These thoughts are overwhelming at times. Those times at night when we look at our little guy comfortably snuggled between us in bed, those times when we’re tired and the challenges of the day have worn us down, those times when we see other parents with their “neuro-typical” children enjoying all of the childhood rites of passage. Those are the times we desperately hope for improvement in the future, and our passion for advocacy and fundraising are reaffirmed.

As our unsure future continues to unfold we focus on the importance of what can be done right now. Right now we can effect change for our son and others who struggle with autism by ensuring that we advocate for him, increase awareness and acceptance, and seek new technologies and tools for him to learn, interact, and succeed. This is why we support Autism Speaks! << Check out the photos from the 7th annual Shootout for Autism – click on the sporting clays! >>

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Bravery – not fear. Acceptance – of the challenges they continue to face as a family…of their reality. Persistence – to shape a more accepting society; and hope – for simple communication, to one day understand each other without question – to have a common language with their son.

Harness what you can control – your strength, motivation – your dignity and compassion; and humbly pray for what you can’t. Unconditional love will be your guide…

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You know, it’s hard to believe the Shoot Out for Autism is in its 7th year here in Southwest Missouri. The big fundraiser for Autism Speaks – put on by Michael and Heather Woodring and Zach’s Pack – is coming up June 2nd at Ozark Shooters Shorts Complex. Learn more and get registered for the event right now at