The Syracuse skyline featured a blue building Saturday night, in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day and the start of Autism Awareness Month. Onondaga Tower on East Jefferson Street was the site of the “Blue Lights for Autism” celebration, which featured blue mardi gras beads, blue balloons, blue glow sticks, blue juice boxes and blue frosted cookies.
Magicians, a balloon man, and strolling puppets from Open Hand Theater entertained a lobby filled with children and families. Exhibits highlighted some of the famous people on the autism spectrum (including actor Dan Aykroyd, whose obsession with the paranormal led to the hit movie, Ghostbusters.) Tables were set up so that families could register for an autism walk and learn about summer camps for children with autism.
A highlight of the evening was a speech by Joseph Cittadino, a 24-year-old college graduate with autism. This is an excerpt:
“Middle school was a time of great transition, and for a person with autism, transitions are not easy. I was in a new world, and it was a nightmare. I was bullied. I was stressed.
“Then, a teacher reached out to me. He looked past my eccentricities and meltdowns. When I was afraid to go to gym class, he went with me. He convinced me to audition for the school musical, and gave me a part where I could shine.
“Great teachers are something us students with autism need, now more than ever. It was teachers standing up, giving me compassion — and time — that got me through my hardships. Even the smallest acts of kindness can mean the world to an autistic student.”
Cittadino’s speech was followed by a proclamation from the city of Syracuse, presented by Mayor Stephanie Miner’s press secretary Alex Marion to Jennifer Speicher, administrator of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, and Carroll Grant, PhD, director of Upstate’s Margaret L. Williams Developmental Evaluation Center. Two puppets with autism from KidSpeak accepted proclamations from the offices of the County Executive and Senator John DeFrancisco.
After the formal program, the crowd spilled out onto East Jefferson St., which was blocked off for the festivities, to cheer and wave blue glow sticks. A giant blue puppet flipped a switch and Onondaga Tower lit up blue in recognition of autism. Even the night sky cooperated by being its own rich royal blue.