Families United In Newtown Promoting Autism Awareness Month Lighting It Up Blue
April may be World Autism Month, but for Linda Jones who is founder of the local autism support nonprofit Families United in Newtown (FUN), every day provides an opportunity to espouse this year’s Autism Awareness Month message #CelebrateDifferences.
Jones told The Newtown Bee she is helping Newtown residents celebrate the many children and adult Newtown neighbors on the spectrum by urging them to display a blue light at their home or business each night for the rest of the month. The group is being supported in the effort by Newtown Hardware, which is supplying more than 100 Philips bright blue and energy efficient 8w LED bulbs with profits being donated to FUN.
FUN’s monthlong “Light It Up Blue for Autism” awareness campaign is also being promoted by community partners, including Bagel Delight, Butcher’s Best, the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers, The Newtown Bee, Newtown Congregational Church, Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, the Newtown High School National Honors Society, Newtown Lions Club, Newtown Savings Bank, Newtown United Methodist Church, Pemberley Designer Consignment of Monroe, and Queen Street Gifts.
Jones said Light It Up Blue kicked off on April 2, World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD).
“This campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of autism and was launched in 2010 by Autism Speaks,” Jones said. She and her husband Duane spent part of the late afternoon and early evening April 2 putting up blue lights at several high profile public sites including Edmond Town Hall and the United Methodist Church in Sandy Hook.
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. This initiative is intended to raise international awareness of autism as a growing public health crisis in support of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month in the United States.
“To celebrate Light it Up Blue, iconic landmarks, skyscrapers, schools, businesses, and homes around the world unite by shining blue lights. In this way, all people affected by autism are honored,” Jones said of iconic facilities like New York’s Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
“People around the globe also wear blue on this day to show their support for the effort,” Jones added.
During this time of quarantine with the Covid 19 virus and home learning with all the students, the Newtown National Honors Society FUN mentors want to continue to make an I.M.P.A.C.T. – (Individuals Making Progress and Coming Together) with “FUN Connections” using phone, Facebook Live, email, Zoom - whatever platform works for them to connect with the group's members, Jones said.
"FUN wants to support the families that are facing significant changes in their routines that may make it difficult for their children to cope," said Jones. "Some of these special needs students are use to getting support services that help them to manage their behaviors and learn routines.
"The NHS student mentors can reach out to the students and/or their parents and siblings to offer a positive remote hand." she added, "We are all in this together and FUN understands the needs that families have with their special needs family members."
Humble FUN Beginnings
Families United in Newtown started fundraising in 2008 with the dream of providing a recreational program for families in the surrounding area with special needs children. In 2009, following the unexpected death of Jones’ son, Tyler Jones, the program started to take form with the support of the Newtown High School National Honors Society students.
“In October of 2010 we had our first monthly meeting in memory of Tyler and have had monthly meetings since that date — excluding the summer months,” she said. “The ultimate goal of FUN is to provide an outlet for families with special needs children as well as promote Autism Awareness within our community.”
Jones said currently, one in 59 children are being diagnosed with some form of Autism.
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.
ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math, and art, according to AutismSpeaks.org.
In 1970, the Autism Society launched an ongoing nationwide effort to promote autism awareness and assure that all affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible. In 1972, the Autism Society launched the first annual National Autistic Children’s week, which evolved into National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM). This April, efforts continue to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change.
The Autism Society of America is kicking off National Autism Awareness Month in April 2020 with the its new “Celebrate Differences” campaign. Designed to build a better awareness of the signs, symptoms, and realities of autism, #CelebrateDifferences focuses on providing information and resources for communities to be more aware of autism, promote acceptance, and be more inclusive in everyday life.
Promote Acceptance Locally
Jones is encouraging Newtown residents to visit autismawarenessmonth.org/get-involved to learn more, take the pledge to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change.
Local residents are asked to share the Autism Society’s resources across digital and social channels, engage employees in fundraising efforts to remain connected during work-from-home mandates, or host a peer-to-peer fundraiser.
Another global nonprofit, Autism Speaks, is responding to parents and caregivers of children on the spectrum sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, by offering additional resources by visiting autismspeaks.org/covid-19-information-and-resources.
During World Autism Month, Autism Speaks is celebrating 15 years as an organization with the Kindness Campaign, an initiative that invites people around the globe to create a kinder, more inclusive world for people with autism. To make 2020 the “Year of Kindness,” the organization is inviting supporters to achieve one million acts of kindness, big and small.
Supporters can participate in the initiative by visiting autismspeaks.org/kindness.