Imagine this: It’s 10:00 am on a weekday, and you’re sitting in a neurologist’s office with your husband and sixteen month old son. You’ve noticed that your son doesn’t often respond to his name, point to things, or do other things that sixteen month olds are doing, but up until now, you had no idea what that means. In less than an hour, you hear from the doctor a word that will change the lives of your son and your family forever: autism.
Suddenly, you are filled with questions, and you’re told “This is going to be a team effort, and the parents manage the team.” You feel like you’re at the bottom of a mountain that you have no idea how to climb, and yet you’re expected to lead the trek.
This is the story of Shelly, mother of Brady, a now 9 year old boy with autism. After Brady’s diagnosis, his parents were reeling with questions. Would Brady ever have a friend, a girlfriend, go to prom? Would he ever be able to speak in full sentences, ever have a job, a wife, children? Brady’s parents grieved this news like a death, and say that at times they weren’t sure they were going to make it. They felt devastated, anxious, hurt, and alone. But they weren’t alone.
A recent parent survey by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that as many as 1 in 50 school-age children has an autism spectrum disorder. That number means that 2% of American children are on the autism spectrum, and these numbers are only expected to rise as diagnosis improves and less kids fall through the cracks. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States without a cure, and on average, associated costs for a family with autism average $60,000 per year. So the question becomes this: if there is no cure for autism spectrum disorders, then what can we do to help the more than 3 million Americans currently living with this disorder? What can we do to help families like Brady’s know that they are not alone, and that we are in this fight with them?
Light It Up Blue is a campaign spearheaded by Autism Speaks to bring awareness to autism by shining a bright blue light on the issue. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, which represents the kickoff of Autism Awareness Month. During this time, world landmarks, buildings, and iconic structures turn blue to show their support. 2015 will be the sixth year this event has occurred. In the past, the Empire State Building, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Sydney Opera House, and 7000 other buildings and landmarks have participated in Light It Up Blue (click here to see pictures of some of these sites from past years).
Here in St. Louis, we’ve seen the courthouse, the World’s Fair Pavilion, and the Gateway Arch all turn blue. But the event can also be supported by local businesses, homes, and individuals. When asked why people should participate in LIUB, Brady’s mother Shelly said, “Light It Up Blue means the showing of support, compassion, acceptance and awareness for all of those affected by Autism/Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. It’s a reminder that we are not in this fight alone, and by wearing or displaying blue on this day, we honor the fight, dedication and hard work of these kiddos, their families and all the therapists and teachers that work with them.”
It’s been almost eight years now since Brady’s family sat in that neurologist’s office. Brady is in third grade, and he likes math, going to the beach, and rock climbing. At the age of almost 6 years old, Brady uttered a statement that caused his parents to cry, scream, laugh, and smile: he said “I want Thomas Train.” While those words may not seem like much to some, for Brady’s family they showed how far Brady had come… that after years of speech and language therapy, Brady was saying real words. And Brady continues to have triumphs every day that help his family remind themselves not to take anything for granted.
Shelly explains that while at first the questions she had asked were “Why him? Why us?” that now the questions have shifted, and she asks herself “Why not him? Why not us?” She says that this journey her family has been on has taught them a lot about perspective. “Everyone in this world has their ‘something’. For us, it’s Autism. This perspective really helped me get over my grief, and embrace this beautiful boy my husband and I have been so blessed with. Life is all about what you make of it. Happiness is a choice. We will make it. It may not be the life we expected we’d have, but it’s ours.”
So, whether you know someone with autism or if you just want to build awareness regarding this disorder, we challenge you to Light It Up Blue. Do it for kids who are fighting hard to communicate their basic wants and needs, like “I want Thomas Train.” Do it for kids who play mostly by themselves at recess because they struggle with social interactions. Do it for those families like Brady’s who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder every day, and do it to celebrate their triumphs, their struggles, and their perseverance. Get out there and Light It Up Blue; it’s your time to shine.
Here’s how you can participate in Light It Up Blue:
Light It Up Blue: In your community
o Change existing light bulbs from white to blue
o Use blue gel sheets to tint your windows
o Put up blue Christmas lights in your windows or around your home
o Cover existing lights with blue filters
o Challenge your street to become a “Blue-evard” by lighting every house up blue
o Project the Light It Up Blue logo on a wall or a building
o Put up a Light It Up Blue sign in your yard (available here )
o Use washable car window paint to show your support
o Put up blue balloons in your office or on your mailbox
Light It Up Blue: On your body
o Dye a strip of your hair blue or use a blue clip-on hair extension
o Use a Light It Up Blue temporary tattoo (available here)
o Wear blue on April 2nd and throughout the month of April
o Wear items with the Autism Speaks logo (available here), such as wristbands, t-shirts, and light up shoelaces.
Light It Up Blue: By donating
o Text AUTISM to 25383 to give $10
o Click here to donate
o Host your own fundraising event (Click here)
Light It Up Blue: By advocating
o Distribute information about autism and Light It Up Blue in your community
o Host a local Autism Speaks representative to come speak at your organization or town about the Light It Up Blue campaign (Click here)
o Engage in political advocacy such as signing a petition for President Obama and Congress to develop a national plan to address autism (Click here for more information)
o Support organizations and businesses who offer support for Autism Awareness Month (click here for a list)
Light It Up Blue: On social media
o Use the hashtag #LIUB to be a part of Autism Awareness Month on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Twitter
o Turn your website, Facebook or Twitter profile blue or use the LIUB logo (click here)
o Personalize your own LIUB Selfie Sign
o Sign up to show your support as an individual, or register a building/organization that is participating here