I’ll be wearing blue all day tomorrow—and I hope you will join me.
Tomorrow kicks off Autism Awareness Month. The month’s events will launch over the next two days with “Light it Up Blue,” the symbolic effort to shine a light on autism. For the campaign, prominent buildings across North America and the world will turn their lights blue to raise global awareness and commemorate World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday.
Individuals can take part by wearing blue clothing and sporting the blue puzzle pin logo of Autism Speaks or those of other autism awareness groups and organizations.
Autism is a cause that’s very important to my family and me—a member of our extended family has autism, and many family friends have children who are also on the autism spectrum.
Undoubtedly, each of you has someone in your life who has autism or you know someone who has been affected by it. Given statistics, it’s highly likely, if not certain that I’m right in this assertion.
Take, for instance, a statistic cited in last night's public hearing: in 1997, the Wilton Public School System had two children that needed special attention for autism. This year, that number was up to 56.
Today, it is estimated that 1 in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined. Boys are more frequently diagnosed: current US estimates are that one out of 70 boys is on the autism spectrum. And the rate of diagnosis is increasing around 15% annually. Some research points to it being even more common than those statistics I quoted above.
This is the fourth year marking a worldwide day for Autism Awareness. “Light It Up Blue” is a campaign led by Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization. They hope the effort will help increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and serve as a reminder of the scope of the global impact that autism has.
While the impact autism has certainly is global, quite often it’s felt more acutely on the individual, personal level. The word autism is a general term that refers to a spectrum of different developmental brain disorders, and the way autism manifests can look different from child to child. The experience can vary widely from family to family, and it’s often something that’s misunderstood by someone outside.
There are many, many challenges faced by people who have children with autism, not least of which is lack of compassion, understanding or acceptance by others. We know children who have been bullied or left out by other kids. We’ve heard of birthday invites that never materialize or play dates that don’t get extended. We’ve seen strange, disapproving looks when behavior isn’t typical in a restaurant or another public place.
Hopefully, tomorrow can be a day when the tide of acceptance, understanding, tolerance and compassion becomes more strongly associated with people of all differences. But for this overwhelmingly common childhood disorder, I’m hoping that blue becomes the color of overwhelming compassion.