Most kids spent last week looking forward to chocolate and Easter egg hunts, but 5-year-old Elliot Sherlock was excited for something else.
“All weekend, he wasn’t asking about Easter,” said Anna Sherlock, Elliot’s mom. “He kept saying, ‘Do we have Autism Walk this week?’”
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. Cache Valley residents working to raise autism awareness gathered at the LDS Tabernacle and walked along Main Street, carrying signs and blue balloons. Many of those in attendance dressed in blue as part of the event’s #LightItUpBlue theme.
“Buildings and public spaces all over the world are lit up blue in honor of autism awareness today,” said event organizer Jennie Ostermiller.
In the past, famous landmarks including the Empire State Building and the White House have been lit blue for World Autism Awareness Day.
Ostermiller is the facilitator of the autism support group at Options for Independence, a local nonprofit that helps people with disabilities gain independence. She said the event is meant to send a simple message.
“Autism is more common than you think, and it’s something you can be proud of,” Ostermiller said.
People at the walk carried signs that read “Different, Not Less” and “Honk For Autism,” which was met with honking from passing traffic throughout the event.
“We look at autism as a different way of thinking, not a wrong or sad way of thinking,” Ostermiller said. “There’s not just one way of being, just people with disabilities and then normal people. Everybody is quirky. Everybody has a little something that makes them different.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 54 Utah children is affected by autism, a higher rate than the national average of one in 68 children. Ostermiller said the event emphasizes not just autism awareness, but autism pride.
“Some of the greatest, most famous people that you’ve heard of in your life — artists that you appreciate, businessmen, leaders in our country — have autism,” Ostermiller said. “It’s part of what makes the world great.”
Robyn Blau has two grandsons who have autism. She dyed her hair blue for the event.
“It’s normally gray,” she said with a laugh.
Blau said she wants to bring attention to how people with autism experience the world differently.
“Some of the things that we all take for granted are a lot harder for them,” Blau said. “They have to work hard to accomplish.”
Blau said though her grandsons have a different way of interacting with the world, they want the same things as everyone else.
“They think differently,” Blau said. “They might act a little differently, but that’s OK. They’re just kids who want to be accepted.”