Autism Speaks U held a community event on Tuesday as part of a “Light it Up Blue” initiative to promote Autism Awareness Month in April. Students and faculty gathered in the Manhattan College quad to help place blue lights in the shape of a puzzle piece, a symbol for autism awareness.
“I was really surprised about the turnout,” said Jennifer McNulty, the Autism Speaks chapter club president. “I just really want to get this campus aware of autism and let them know that it’s out there and let them know more about it.”
Autism Speaks U is Manhattan College’s division of Autism Speaks, an international organization founded in 2005 to promote autism awareness, fundraise to further autism research, and provide advocacy efforts.
Autism spectrum disorder is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. One in 68 American children is on the autism spectrum, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence rates of this disorder have increased rapidly in recent years due in part to growing awareness.
“I think it is very important to be in touch with the community of autistic kids because there are some on our campus that people don’t know about,” said McNulty. “People tend to judge them and think they are weird or they have a problem, when in reality they are just trying to fit in like everybody else.”
This event has proved to be one of the club’s more influential events due to the amount of people it attracts, considering that the college’s quad is one of the more central locations on campus. Last year, the “Light it Up Blue” event inspired the club’s current vice president Madison Cona to get involved.
“It’s a really small club but it has been growing since we’ve been doing things like this,” said Cona. “We’ve had about the same 15 people, but on nights like tonight we can get up to 40 people to help us.”
The illuminated quad even caught the attention of Manhattan College’s president Brennan O’Donnell, who stopped by to learn more about the event and the efforts of Autism Speaks U.
“I’m glad to see that this is becoming a tradition on campus,” said O’Donnell. “It is a worthy cause and it is great to see the kind of students we have are getting involved behind it.”
Though this event generates a lot of recognition, it isn’t the only way Autism Speaks U is trying to spread awareness throughout campus. Madeleine Schwartz, a sophomore at Manhattan College and a Quadrangle staff writer, has been a part of the club for almost a year manages the club’s social media presence to keep students up to date on the events and how they are able to help.
“So far it has been very effective, especially through Twitter and Instagram,” said Schwartz. “I think the more we can get ourselves out there, especially through social media, the more people that learn about it and the more the club will grow because of it.”