This April 2nd on World Autism Awareness Day, Light It Up Blue will turn five years old. On this day we do our best to go blue across the world in order to start a conversation focused on autism awareness. For my family and me, spreading autism awareness is something that goes back to when I was first diagnosed with autism at age four and a half. At the time of my diagnosis, my parents wanted EVERYONE to know what autism was. At the time, the prevalence numbers were only 1 in 1,000 children and very few people knew what autism meant.
Today as a self-advocate, I now promote the same cause my family did when I was a kid with the hopes that people will become more aware of our autism community. After some brainstorming on what to do this year, I looked to my local community for feedback. Usually every April I get asked by several schools and parent groups to go speak on autism awareness, but this year I wanted to do something more.
With that my mom, who has worked with the Board of Education in my hometown of Jersey City for 18 years, suggested that I reach out to our City Council President, Rolando Lavarro. That’s when the balls started rolling. I sent an initial email asking if we could set up a meeting to sit down at City Hall to discuss World Autism Awareness Day. In my email, I discussed how 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism and how 1 in 49 are diagnosed in New Jersey. I then told him my story; how I was nonverbal until I was two and a half and had to spend several hours in therapy each day to help with my sensory, speech and motor issues.
I wanted this meeting to happen SO badly. I was dreading that a return email was never going to come. Less than 24 hours later…success! I got an email from our Council President’s Secretary asking if I’d like to come in to discuss the autism cause the following week! I was ecstatic.
The day of the meeting came and I have to admit, I was pretty nervous. Once I made it to City Hall, the discussion was amazing. I began highlighting my experiences growing up and discussing the prevalence of autism in our society and everything seemed to click.
The conversation went so well that almost 30 minutes into the conversation they had decided to proclaim April 2nd as Autism Awareness Day in Jersey City! I was thrilled with this, but I wanted to see what more could be done while I was in the room. I brought up Light It Up Blue and how this could make a huge impact if we could get a building in Jersey City to go blue. Everyone loved the idea and they said to me “Well, why not light City Hall up blue?” It was a HUGE opportunity and we agreed to it right away.
These moments will be something I remember for the rest of my life! Not only were we able to get a resolution in my hometown, but we also got a prominent building to turn their lights blue for World Autism Awareness Day! I’d like to thank our Council President and the Mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, for making this awareness effort possible!
I hope that this story teaches not only people in New Jersey but throughout our society that we CAN Light Up the whole world Blue! We can push this amazing effort and we can and will make a difference for our autism community!