Students Speak To Shine A Light

Photo Courtesy of Samantha Schwartz

With the help of thin blue filters covering the lights of the Atrium, the New Paltz landmark will join the likes of the Empire State Building and Sydney Opera House to shine a blue-hued light on Autism.

As part of Autism Speaks’ “Light It Up Blue” campaign, Autism Speaks U, the SUNY New Paltz chapter of the autism research and advocacy organization, will bring attention to the developmental disorder throughout April as part of Autism Awareness Month, Chapter President and Club Founder Danielle Franke said.

Franke said the blue lights on various buildings attempt to bring attention to autism advocacy movements. For the second year, Franke said the Atrium lights will do the same thing.

The missions of the club are to raise awareness and educate students about the effects of autism, fundraise for research, treatments and cures for autism and to advocate for the needs of those affected by autism, according to the chapter’s Facebook group.

“I want to raise awareness,” Franke said. “And to make people realize how prevalent it is.”

Franke said this is the first year the club has been able to hold events. Franke said she started the New Paltz chapter after discovering more about Autism Speaks from their website. She said the group has tried to organize events that “lend a voice” to those on the autistic spectrum.

On April 2, the club brought 17-year-old high school senior Cameron Kirkpatrick to speak about his life and experiences as a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome. Kirkpatrick talked about adversity he has overcome as he approaches his graduation and played guitar for those in attendance.

“It’s important to hear from the source,” Franke said. “No one really understands better than those who’ve lived it.”

Danielle Roma, public relations officer for the New Paltz chapter, said her younger brother has autism and is a constant inspiration to her. Ultimately, he was the reason she joined her high school chapter of the organization and later the college chapter.

“So many people have family or friends who have been touched by autism,” Roma said. “More than most people realize.”

Roma said the puzzle piece —  a well-known symbol of autism — would be a great visual to help those who are not familiar with the disorder better understand how common it is. She said she’d ideally like to start a project incorporating puzzle pieces to represent people who have been touched by autism — with the few who haven’t being represented by the missing pieces.

The club has set sights on their first large-scale event, an Autism Awareness Walk to be held on April 20, at noon on the Old Main Quad.

Roma said the event is “her baby” and that she hopes to see members of the local community come out in support.

“We hope to see kids and families come out and have fun and learn more about Autism Speaks and autism in general,” Franke said.