At awards shows, on the red carpet everyone is asked “Who are you wearing?” Today, I want to know what color are you wearing? I hope it’s blue. Today, worldwide, we all don blue for Autism Awareness Day. The education and fundraising day, April 2 each year, has, for several years, had international cooperation for the “Light It Up Blue” campaign, where landmarks in cities around the world light blue in the evening. From the Empire State Building to the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, even the International Space Station will be illuminated with blue lighting to mark the day.
Aside from our indigo t-shirts and porch lights, what does this day really mean? Autism Speaks, the advocacy organization out at the helm of the fight, tells us that 1 in 68 kids will develop autism (the figure is 1 in 42 for boys), and that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. As we are all hyper-focused on insurance right now, it is interesting to note that a family will spend about $60,000 a year on autism-related expenses, and there is no cure at this time. Being “on the spectrum” of autism means very different things for each individual, and there seem to be many factors that come into play when we try to determine how an individual develops autism. The controversial vaccine theory that got so much attention has not really been borne out by science, but we are learning more every day about pre-natal care, genetics, parental age at conception, premature birth, complications in pregnancy, and more. While we are definitely learning more, we haven’t cracked the case yet—which is why it is so important to keep the bright blue spotlight on the cause, advocate for research funding, and—so crucial—support individuals and families dealing with autism.
You don’t by chance have one of those party lightbulbs laying around the house, do you? A blue one? Pop it in a socket–like your porch light, for instance, and light it up blue–for World Autism Awareness Day. Rates of autism continue to rise, and it is figured one in 88 children in the US is on the autism spectrum. Today is the day (who are we kidding? EVERY day is the day) to focus attention on the issues of autism, treatment, and care. Put pressure on legislators to continue autism research (cuts are being made to so many important research programs), advocate on behalf of the cause (find out more here), support the cause by donating or walking an event, and lend your voice. The science is alarming, and the need for us to get involved in a tireless way has never been greater.
Oh, and if you find a blue bulb and Light it Up Blue, your porch (or lamp) will be in good company—the Empire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, the Great Buddha in Japan, Rockefeller Center, the Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, Canton Tower in China, Kobe Port Tower in Japan, the Hungarian Parliament Building, the New York Stock Exchange, the CN Tower in Toronto, Bahrain’s World Trade Center, Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisaliyah Center, Cairo Tower, Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes, Paris Stock Exchange, and so many other monuments and landmarks are going indigo tonight–just like you.
Today, April 2, is the second annual World Autism Awareness Day as proclaimed by the united Nations. It is a day to exercise your compassion and advocacy muscles to join the effort to be sure universal human rights are guaranteed to all people. Think of the difficulty of navigating your own life, then think of doing it with a little understood condition that makes connecting with others a supreme challenge, then think of all of that while living in another country where less about autism is understood, tolerated, or accepted. Fear and ostracizing an individual with autism is the reaction in most global societies. Like many differences, the majority finds it easiest to adopt an out of sight, out of mind mentality, so people are institutionalized and hidden away even when their condition would not call for it in an environment with better understanding.
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest science and advocacy organization for the disorder, and leads the charge, today with national and international events marking the day, and every day. Yoko Ono will unveil a work of art inspired by World Autism Awareness Day on the floor of the NY Stock Exchange, First Ladies from nations around the globe have recorded public service announcement messages that will be aired on CNN all day today, events are happening in city parks and auditoriums around the world, more than 75 communities in the US, Canada, and the UK are broadcasting special programming from Nick Jr to raise awareness and eliminate fear in young and old alike, and landmark public buildings in urban centers in several
nations will be lit blue to commemorate the day.
Be part of the day. Be part of the cure. Support the science and support the struggle until the science brings us to the end of this road.
Ari Ne'eman, National Council on Disability
How much do I LOVE that President Obama has appointed the first ever autistic White House appointee, Ari Ne’eman, new member of the National Council on Disability (NCD), advising the president and congress about ways to reform health care, schools, support services, and employment policy?! And he’s only 22 years old!! Inclusiveness is such an important element of our leadership right now, when divisiveness rules the airwaves and rhetoric (and public appearances by government officials–thoughts and prayers for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and all the families of each and every victim of that tragedy).
Autism is a thing we never heard of, or spoke of, when I was growing up. Like peanut allergies, it must have been there, but wasn’t named or responded to as sensitively as it is now (and I am not likening the two–just my own obliviousness to the issues prior to recent years). I have dear friends who have autism in their families, and are so inspiring in the empowering and nurturing ways they work together as families–it is truly a lesson in how to BE in this world.
If you know or are part of any families with autism, ever saw a TV show or article about autism that hooked you, or just know you can be of help…think about doing some Autism volunteering.
- Traveler’s Worldwide offers volunteer vacations to help children with autism in South Africa. How much time do you have? A month? a summer? You will work in a school dedicated to treating autistic children as a classroom assistant and work one-on-one, tutoring. When the end-of-school bell rings, you still get to have incredible interactions in the evenings, playing and imagining with autistic children who are resident at the school.
- The Beijing Institute for Autistic Children in partnership with Volunteer Abroad provides opportunities to work with Chinese children with autism. For one to eight weeks, volunteers help autistic children develop skills and learn to interact with others.
- WLS International also services the autistic community in China and has volunteer experiences from one week or longer, in Beijing.
- Teach Abroad provides volunteer opportunities to work with autistic children, ages five and older, in Delhi, India. For a minimum of two months, you will teach subjects like music, drama, English, and arts with a motivated autistic student body.
- The Canadian Alliance for Development Initiatives and Projects does a three-week camp program (one week of training and two camp weeks) for volunteers to work with autistic kids in Courtenay, British Columbia.
- The Comox Valley Child Development Association sends volunteers to help children at a yearly autism summer camp in Canada. At this three week camp, volunteers help autistic children and teens participate in group activities, meal preparation, and day trips.
- The Cultural and Academic Travel Organization facilitates volunteer vacations to Ghana’s New Horizon School for Persons with Intellectual Disability. At this school, volunteers help children and adults with mental challenges, including autism. Volunteers teach academic subjects, tutor autistic people in life skills, supervise activities, and work at the autism resource center.
Yesterday, April 1, was U.N. International Autism Awareness Day and today, April 2, is the international celebration of Autism Awareness. April is Autism Awareness Month and an opportunity to commit to understanding more about all the people around us. Here is a list of activities and actions, from the Autism Society, that you can take on behalf of this cause throughout April, and year ’round.
Autism Speaks is an advocacy charity raising awareness and working for change. Last night, the Empire State Building and other iconic North American landmarks were bathed in blue light for autism awareness. Light it Up Blue is putting visual reminders everywhere, giving us all something to talk about. Here are several ways to get involved with Autism Speaks.
Understand. Act. And help others to understand. It reminds me of one of my very favorite quotes in the world, always on my computer’s desktop:
Seek first to understand
Then to be understood