14-year-old from Fox River Grove raises money for Autism Speaks walk

Niko Sandberg goes into businesses with lots of foot traffic and speaks to the manager.

The 14-year-old Fox River Grove resident asks if he can put up one of his fliers, promoting the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks on May 17. So far he has been to about 20 businesses.

Niko says he gets frazzled as he explains the prevalence of Autism. According to the Autism Speaks website, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls in the country are diagnosed with Autism. He adds that money raised goes toward research and advocacy of Autism.

Niko is raising money as he and his parents prepare to participate for the third time in the annual Autism Speaks Walk. During the previous two years, he has raised more than $2,500 for Autism Speaks. This year, Niko’s team will have eight people.

“The best part of the walk is the experience,” Niko said. “You walk for help, you walk for clarity, [and] I love the fact that I’m helping other kids like me.”

He has Asperger’s syndrome, which is high-functioning Autism, according to the Autism Speaks website.

Niko didn’t have any speech issues or delayed speech development when he was younger, said Danijela Sandberg, Niko’s mother.

“He’s so high-functioning, he didn’t have the classic signs, like the other children: the rocking, the flapping, or the rigid schedule,” Danijela Sandberg said.

He was diagnosed in 2011 after he didn’t recognize social cues, such as what kids rolling their eyes meant, or when he was being too close to someone.

“The change from fourth to fifth grade, there’s a social evolution that happens when you go to middle school,” Danijela Sandberg said. “He was so much younger socially than his peers, and we didn’t understand why.”

Since being diagnosed, Niko has taken horse riding therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, among other things.

“As soon as we found out what it was, we dove in and did everything possible,” Danijela Sandberg said.

The family wanted to participate in the Autism Speaks walk because the organization provided helpful materials and guides on available therapies to the family when Niko was diagnosed.

“It was my lifeline to get help to get the right therapies,” Danijela Sandberg said. “It was very helpful and in turn I wanted to help other families.”

So Danijela Sandberg helps put together fliers, Niko decides on the text of the flier, and Blair Sandberg, Niko’s father, even created a QR code to take people to Niko’s donation page.

Despite his Asperger’s syndrome, Niko wants to be a herpetologist when he grows up because he likes lizards.

And he said he people wouldn’t know he had Asperger Syndrome unless he told them.

“I’m like everyone else,” Niko said. “I want to be treated with dignity and respect.”

To donate

Go to his fundraising page to contribute to Niko Sandberg’s Walk Now for Autism Speaks.

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