“Light It Up Blue” – Autism Awareness Month – Event Recap

What an amazing day we had last Thursday, April 2nd!

As you may know, April is Autism Awareness Month.  But, on April 2nd, it’s the launch of Autism Speaks “Light It Up Blue” campaign.

Hillcrest took part in the City of Pittsfield’s proclamation in honor of Corey Carlotto, a Pittsfield resident, who is on the Autism Spectrum.   Hillcrest also supplied blue lights to shine on City Hall for the month of April.

Hillcrest had it’s own ceremony on the evening of April 2nd, at dusk, in Park Square to support Autism Awareness Month.  Light up LED bracelets were worn by participants and blue t-shirts supporting the cause.  Ahead of the ceremony, Hillcrest’s Housatonic Academy and Autism unit had their Family Strong event with some families and students of those in the programs at Patrick’s Pub.

Check out some photos of Hillcrest’s event in Park Square and a video of the speeches by Shaun Cusson, Executive Director at Hillcrest, and Hillcrest parent Samantha Tyer whose son attends Hillcrest’s Housatonic Academy.

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A HUGE thank you to Michael Supranowicz, Business Development Director, and Katrina Cardillo, Director of Communications at Hillcrest, for coordinating the Park Square efforts.  Another thank you goes out to Limelight Productions in Lee, MA, for providing the blue lights in Park Square and Greylock Marketing Group’s Bob Maxwell, for taking photos at the event.

A copy of Hillcrest parent, Samantha’s inspiring speech is below:

You are going to see statements this month such as, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Be aware, it is not a disease. It is not contagious. It doesn’t need a cure. It is a developmental disability. The brain develops differently. Autistic is a neuro-type. Autistic is the way the brain developed. This is so complex that it becomes a diverse spectrum. Be aware, families do not suffer because their family member is Autistic. If anything, they are suffering because of a lack of resources. We need to focus more on support and acceptance of this Neuro-diversity.

First, I asked Gus what he wanted people to know about Autism Awareness. He told me he wants people to be aware of where he lives so they can find him when they come to visit. He is autistic and wants an awareness of his physical self. He can be very black and white. I couldn’t go further than our address with that, so I would like to speak about Triggers and Stimming at this time of Easter.

Don’t ever take anything for granted or assume. Things that some of us think are silly or benign can produce intense reactions in someone that is Autistic. Personally my Gus hates Humpty Dumpty. He was in 6th grade public school and was given something to write about. He went, what they thought was, totally berserk because he didn’t want to write. Part of this was true, but not all of it. I asked what the subject was and they told me he had to first read about an egg. I dropped my head and said, “Not an egg.” There is no behavior that Gus has that isn’t started without a trigger. And I wouldn’t have thought to tell the school, no eggs, no egg dying, no egg books, no writing about eggs and absolutely no mention of Humpty Dumpty. Gus has a severe aversion to Humpty Dumpty because it is abstract and Humpty gets hurt. Gus can’t dye Easter eggs because they become beautiful to him and he thinks it’s his egg friend and he knows it will have to be thrown away. If we hollow out the eggs, they are too fragile and crack. We go right back to Humpty Dumpty. So, no dying Easter eggs for Gus.

If a child is having significant behavioral difficulties, including aggression and trying to injure themselves or others, start looking for triggers. You can try different diets, meds, etc., but try looking inside or around the person. Look at all of the senses. Do they have an earache, stomachache and can’t express it? Has there been an unusual noise or movement? Was something said? You’d be surprised.

One of the most obvious responses to these triggers is called stimming- the common jumping and hand flapping. This is a need to get rid of stress and to feel safe. Don’t stop people when they do this. Don’t try to teach them something or make a point in these moments. It is a natural method of expression. Not an embarrassment. It is a unique and beautiful dance. Imagine how much better we might all feel if it was an accepted practice.

We need more schools like Housatonic Academy. Gus has hated school since preschool. It has taken going to HA to turn this around. It’s not 100%, but he has actually stated, “I love school. I found where I belong.” Not every Autistic person has Gus’ level of ability. Not everyone is verbal or reactive and that’s o.k. Hillcrest offers other environments to be in at Housatonic or at the Residential Autism Spectrum program for people to be safe and successful.

And for all of the H.A.-ers that know my jokester. “What does a laughing deer use for money? HA-Bucks.”

The Autism Society States: “Let’s create a world where all people, regardless of diagnosis, are treated with respect and dignity and are appreciated for who they are.”

In closing, for all of our Autistic friends: Be different. Accept your neurodiversity. Be patient. Don’t be silent. Don’t normalize. Don’t vary from your special interest. Stim with determination. And above all love, love, love your individuality.

Press coverage:

Berkshire Eagle

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