Following years of cold and windy “Light It Up Blue” ceremonies, the crowd which gathered together at Gateway Park on Monday, April 3 was greeted by sunny skies and warmer climes. The ceremony kicked off with welcoming remarks from Seaford Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Katie Hickey.
“We want to recognize and bring attention to autism in our town and the families that are impacted by it. So, this park will be lit up blue, and we certainly encourage all citizens to recognize this month as Autism Awareness Month,” Seaford Mayor David Genshaw said.
Sussex County Council President Mike Vincent thanked those who attended the ceremony. He stated that when he grew up in the 50s and 60s, even though there were people with autism, you never heard the word, “autism,” and you didn’t talk about it. He thanked families in the area for bringing attention to autism.
Representative Dan Short said it was nice to see everyone out there that night. He joked that he tried to figure out what kind of blue hat to wear for the occasion, only to discover Mayor Genshaw arrived with the same hat he had on. He proceeded to thank Carlyle and Marcia Windley for their “continued support and their continued effort to bring awareness to autism.”
“Now this is a very serious situation, it impacts families all throughout Delaware,” said Short, who held a proclamation that was signed the next day in Dover by Governor Carney. “One of the lines I thought was very, very important that we might want to bring up is that as of 1995, the prevalence of ASD was one in 2,500 births. And today, it’s one in approximately every 36 births. That’s a very significant situation.”
He made mention that it was the 13th year of hosting “Light it Up Blue,” and the next day would signify 25 years of acknowledging “Autism Delaware.” He thanked everyone for being there, wearing blue and said that the city of Seaford would be lit up in blue that night.
Directly following, Hickey played two parts of a presentation by the Seaford School District on a laptop. She stated that it would be posted later on Seaford’s Facebook page for all to see and hear. After the computer presentation, Hickey stated it was her seventh year that she was involved with “Light it Up Blue.” She said she was excited to celebrate it every year, and celebrate that “being different is okay.”
Carlyle, his wife Marcia, and granddaughter Sarah Windley were then introduced to the crowd where they thanked those who came and those who helped. Then, on behalf of the Lion’s Club, Windley presented a $1,000 check to Tamara Williams of Autism Delaware.
Then, following a glowing introduction by Marcia Windley, Seaford School District’s Teacher of the Year Kiara Briggs, spoke to the crowd. Briggs lives in Seaford with her husband Mike and two children. She has been teaching in the Seaford School District for 14 years. Her son Michael is autistic, and has been non-verbal. She said how she still has video of her son when he was able to speak, and then autism took that ability from her son.
She thanked everyone who attended for helping to bring awareness to autism. She also thanked those who helped put together the event. She said nights like “Light it Up Blue” help parents to seek early awareness of autism for their own children. “People with autism have enormous potential,” she said. “Most have remarkable visual, artistic and academic skills,” she said.
She stated that with technology, her son can communicate and tap into his capabilities. She said concentrating on strengths of those with autism, rather than their weaknesses, it helps create a society that is truly inclusive. She said when those with autism are given equal opportunities, “we all do better.” She stated that means making sure our community lives up to the commitment that all things are possible to all people.
As a special education teacher, she realized that her own son needed testing for autism. At the age of three he was tested and diagnosed. “This news to some parents is devastating,” she said. She said each person’s journey with autism is different. She said she doesn’t know where her son Michael’s journey will take him, but she knows, “he will need a little more love, a little more support, and a little more patience.” She then stated he has been “blessed with a village” of those who will be available to help her son.
She acknowledged that some days are easy, while others are hard. But, she added that her son has taught her a lot in his eight years. “We all need mutual respect, we need support, we need trust, we need boundaries, we need people to be there when it matters,” Briggs said. “And, we need people to show their love in a way that we can understand.” She then assured parents of children with autism, “Your best has been enough.”
She said she was encouraged by the increasing support of the public and the resources that are increasing for those families with an autistic child. However, she also stated that we cannot overlook the growing prevalence of those being diagnosed with autism. She also stated the CDC numbers, but also pointed out that a growing number of African American and Hispanic children are being diagnosed with autism. She said that the growing numbers should “send shockwaves” through our nation. She said that our children need us more than ever. She noted that although there is no cure for autism, early intervention is key.
She said early screening and intervention can improve the lives of those with autism, as well as their families. “Autism Speaks” is a great place for parents to start if they need information, she informed the crowd. She said showing your support by spending time with an autistic person shows that you care and can make a “huge difference.”
Briggs then quoted former President Barack Obama, stating, “Let us reach for a future in a way that no person living on the autism spectrum is limited by anything but the size of their dreams, one in which all people have the opportunity to live a life filled with a sense of identity, purpose, and self-determination.” She ended by saying we can work together to find a cure.
Hickey said it was “so special to be out here and witness this every year.” She also stated she was proud of the community of Seaford as she said the city is in support of our district and other efforts to bring awareness to autism. She also asked the audience to give themselves a round of applause. She called up the Windley family once more for the official countdown to light up the city of Seaford blue for the entire month of April. The trees in Gateway Park will also be lit up blue. For more information or to get involved, visit: www.autismspeaks.org, or www.autismdelaware.org.