April 2011, World Autism Awareness Month, has been one of the most memorable times in my life. The last few weeks I have taken part in some unbelievable ‘Light It Up Blue‘ events, met amazing people, and connected with the worldwide community to commemorate World Autism Awareness Month. April was comprised of so many moving parts that came together seamlessly, due to the hard work of so many.
I have been meaning to write a blog post, but I keep hitting walls.
Sure, I drafted a post of my experiences on April 1 and 2, detailing some of my stops: The Today Show with Alpha Xi Delta; WPIX 11 with the incredible students from Pelham; The New York Stock Exchange with our Co-Founders Mr. and Mrs. Wright, state dignitaries, politicians, celebrities and many more prominent people in the autism community. I could write about the reception hosted by ‘Light It Up Blue Rockland,’ in my hometown, when my brother and his housemates were in attendance. I was so proud. Or, the press conference at the Intrepid, which took place on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Throughout this campaign, I communicated with literally thousands of people all over the world. I feel blessed and privileged to have heard their stories and seen their photos. While I worry that I will never be able to formulate the right words to give World Autism Awareness Month justice it deserves, here are some photos that will speak for me:
I can’t forget to include the panel discussion, ‘Solving the Autism Public Health Puzzle: Regional and International Collaboration,’ held at the United Nations, or ‘A Blue Affair’ hosted by Donald Trump Jr. and his wife, Vanessa.
We should also revisit the push to ‘Light The White House Blue.’ I am in awe of each person who submitted a blog entry. More than 1,000 comments were posted and much of the autism community was unified for a common goal.
On April 25, my dear friend Jess, who so bravely and unselfishly shares her beautiful family with us on A Diary of a Mom, was invited to The White House for an event to commemorate Autism Awareness Month. The morning before she headed over to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Jess told me that she would be taking my brother Jeff with her. My heart was full. I couldn’t think of anyone better to represent him. She gives all of those affected by autism the utmost respect and genuine compassion. I will never be able to thank her enough.
However, alongside all of these spectacular and unique moments, the most memorable for me happened on probably the most mundane of all days.
On April 3, once we all were coming down off the Light It Up Blue ‘high,’ my brother came home from his residential house, and I snapped back to reality. We took a walk, as we have done countless times before. My mom, brother, and I have been taking Sunday walks for years, making it almost an institution. We go to different locations, but often find ourselves on the wooded path at the Pearl River Middle School, as we did that day. We are shielded by the trees and find comfort in the trail’s predictable twists and turns.
Before we begin, Jeff’s anxiety kicks in and he asks for a rundown of dates, “Yes, Jeff, next weekend you can order two DVDs off Amazon, in June 2011 we will go to Montauk for a week, in 2014 we will remodel the kitchen …” and so it goes. Then, we are swallowed by the woods, where Jeffery will usually stroll a few steps behind making his noises. My mom and I will smile and greet friendly strangers; some give us knowing and warm looks, while others sort of stare.
As we round the first bend, which borders a putting green at the local golf course, we remind Jeff to quiet down. As per usual, he gets louder, and we laugh. Next, there is a downturn that Jeff always heads down gingerly. He approaches this dip with the caution he exhibits in some everyday activities. If there are any disruptions along the way (fallen tree, broken bridge, mud puddles, etc.), Jeff always takes note – I am positive he remembers every element of the trail from the first day he stepped foot there, over twenty years ago.
We plod along, stopping from time to time to chat about dates. He’ll hold our hands, then jog ahead, or maybe he’ll stop to give us a hug. My mom and I don’t mind – as a matter of fact, we’d have it no other way.
The last leg has a steep uphill that my mom and I sort of dread. Each time, Jeff manages to surge, making it to the top with a smile. He takes on the hill with gusto and courage. This trail reminds me of the journey my family is on. There are times we are slow and anxious, while other times we coast through and laugh. We have down-slopes and upturns, but Jeff always keeps our pace and establishes a rhythm. It may have taken him a little longer through the years, but he has become our fearless leader. Jeff holds us up with his unconditional love and directs us with his strength.
My brother, like the countless members of our community, is brave.
World Autism Awareness Month 2011 has given me a greater sense of community. Together, we will make the world a safer and more welcoming place for my brother, and all of those with autism spectrum disorders. I have a renewed hope, and will be forever changed.
I would like to send a big thank you to each and every person in the autism community.
There is still time to celebrate Autism Awareness Month and Light It Up Blue! Join in the festivities and head to The Home Depot to purchase your very own blue light bulbs and lanterns while they are still available!
Autism Speaks and The Home Depot® have partnered to shine a light on autism during Autism Awareness Month in April. The Home Depot is selling blue Coleman LED lanterns and blue light bulbs, offering people across the country the opportunity to raise autism awareness through Autism Speaks’ Light it Up Blue initiative. A portion of each sale will go to Autism Speaks to fund research, advocacy, family services, and awareness for families struggling with this disorder.
For more information about our partnership, visit here!
The Intrepid played host this morning to a press conference and family event for those affected by autism. Children from Pelham Middle School joined children with autism from schools around NYC and N.J. to celebrate WAAD on April 2. Owen Saunders, a student at Pelham Middle School, created the song Light It Up Blue and got his classmates to sing it. Autism Speaks recorded the kids singing the song and created a video that has gone viral around the world! The father of a child with autism in Argentina translated the song into Spanish and it is being sung in Spain and Argentina to celebrate WAAD today.
The students sang their heart-warming song today to an audience that included guest speakers Suzanne and Bob Wright – who were joined by the children and grandchildren, Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), and the president of the Intrepid Susan Marenoff-Zausner. They received a standing ovation at the conclusion of their performance. Plus visit the Pix 11 blog to see the students’ performance from April 1.
Guests and Intrepid visitors were also able to try out Autism Speaks brand new interactive awareness ad created by BBDO with the Ad Council. The display invites people to try to make eye contact with a young girl on the screen to demonstrate an early warning sign of autism.
WORLD AUTISM AWARENESS DAY, 2011
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
With autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) affecting nearly one percent of children in the United States, autism is an urgent public health issue with a profound impact on millions of Americans. World Autism Awareness Day is an opportunity to recognize the contributions of individuals with ASDs and rededicate ourselves to the cause of understanding and responding to autism.
Men and women on the autism spectrum have thrived and excelled in communities across America and around the world. Yet, despite great progress in understanding ASDs, challenges remain for these individuals and their loved ones. For too long, the needs of people living with autism and their families have gone without adequate support and understanding. While we continue to encourage the development of resources for children on the autism spectrum and provide necessary resources for their families, we must also remember that young people with ASDs become adults with ASDs who deserve our support, our respect, and the opportunity to realize their highest aspirations.
As our understanding of the autism spectrum grows, my Administration remains dedicated to supporting children and adults impacted by autism. Led by the Department of Health and Human Services, we have expanded investments in autism research, public health tracking, early detection, and services — from early intervention for children to improved long-term services and support programs for adults. My Administration maintains a firm commitment to advance autism research and treatment, as well as promote education, employment, and equality for all individuals with autism, from early childhood through employment and community life. We will continue to work with the Congress, experts, and families to improve Federal and State programs that assist individuals with ASDs and their families and to bolster the impact and reach of community support and services. I encourage all Americans to visit http://www.HHS.gov/autism for more information and resources on ASDs.
With each breakthrough in research and each innovative treatment, we open endless possibilities for the many American families who have been touched by autism. As we mark World Autism Awareness Day, let us recommit to improving the lives of individuals and families impacted by ASDs and creating a world free from discrimination where all can achieve their fullest potential.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2 of each year as World Autism Awareness Day. I call upon the people of the United States to learn more about autism and what they can do to support individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
PIX11 Morning News kicked off their Autism Awareness Week with Owen Saunders and his classmates from Pelham. They recorded a song for Autism Speaks urging the world to Light It Up Blue for World Autism Awareness Day. The class headed down to the New York City studio to perform!
For more about this segment visit here!
The Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, GA hosted a kickoff event to Light It Up Blue and kick off Autism Awareness Month! Bernie Marcus and Dr. Ami Klin were the keynote speakers, along with local mom Kimberly Dick (Walk Chair for the GA Walk), and her son, who shared a touching story. She shared how he has benefited from early intervention and services at the Marcus Autism Center, while Bernie talked about how far we have come in his 20 years of being involved in bringing awareness and clinical programs to the people of GA and around the world. The Marcus Autism Center even rolled out a BLUE carpet, colored the grass BLUE, and lit the entire building in BLUE lights. Bernie flipped a switch, and the children of the Early Intervention Program came out to celebrate, as the official “Light It Up Blue” song was playing. Everyone celebrated this special day by wearing blue, and photos were shared of other buildings around the world that also were participating. A reception was held afterwards for the families and staff of the Marcus Autism Center, and everyone left feeling empowered and proud to share with others about Autism Awareness. It was truly a special event and the Marcus Autism Center will remain blue for the month of April.
On April 1 and April 2 buildings all over the world were lit in bright blue to help kick off Autism Awareness Month and celebrate World Autism Awareness Day on April 2. Visit lightitupblue.org for more photos and information. See a list of the more than 1000 buildings participating in Light It Up Blue and find out about national fundraising and awareness initiatives from Autism Speaks’ partners. Watch an interview with Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speak, from NBA TV, and see how the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs celebrated the day. See how “The Talk” lit it up blue on April 1 and see photos and video from etnies’ free skateboarding clinic for children with autism.
CBS Early Show
|Autism Speaks opened World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, on the CBS Saturday Early Show. Bob and Suzanne Wright were guests of anchors Russ Mitchell and Rebecca Jarvis on their Early Coffee segment. They shared that over 1000 buildings in the U.S. and around the world turned blue last night and will again tonight to celebrate WAAD. When asked “what do you want people to know about autism,” Suzanne Wright said “1 in 110 … the numbers are staggering,” Bob answered the question of “What is the biggest challenge you would like to overcome with autism?” by saying “If we can get real good research and translate it into drugs and therapies we can have enormous impact – what helps a child helps an adult.” See the clip here.|
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
|The Intrepid played host this morning to a press conference and family event for those affected by autism. Children from Pelham Middle School joined children with autism from schools around NYC and N.J. to celebrate WAAD on April 2. Owen Saunders, a student at Pelham Middle School, created the song Light It Up Blue and got his classmates to sing it. Autism Speaks recorded the kids singing the song and created a video that has gone viral around the world! The father of a child with autism in Argentina translated the song into Spanish and it is being sung in Spain and Argentina to celebrate WAAD today.The students sang their heart-warming song today to an audience that included guest speakers Suzanne and Bob Wright – who were joined by the children and grandchildren, Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), and the president of the Intrepid Susan Marenoff-Zausner. They received a standing ovation at the conclusion of their performance. Plus visit the Pix 11 blog to see the students’ performance from April 1.
Guests and Intrepid visitors were also able to try out Autism Speaks’ brand new interactive awareness ad created by BBDO with the Ad Council. The display invites people to try to make eye contact with a young girl on the screen to demonstrate an early warning sign of autism.
NYSE Opening Bell
|On the morning of April 1, Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks, and Toni Braxton, six time Grammy Award-winner and Autism Speaks spokesperson, along with other supporters, were on hand to ring the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Watch video here.|
Empire State Building
|Autism Speaks volunteers and supporters gathered at the Empire State Building to flip the ceremonial switch to turn the lights blue for the second year in a row. Bob and Suzanne Wright and Toni Braxton addressed the crowd. Read more and see photos.|