Rock Hill businesses’ blue lights help raise autism awareness

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comApril 1, 2013 

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    Rock Hill City Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo, on behalf of Mayor Doug Echols, will proclaim April as Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 as Light It Up Blue Day, during an event at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Old Town Amphitheater.

    The public is invited to an Autism Awareness celebration at Thursday’s Too restaurant at 147 Herlong Ave. at 6:30 p.m.

— This time last year, a dozen Rock Hill businesses shined blue lights to spread the word about autism.

Tonight, nearly three times as many will do it again.

For the second year in row, businesses in Rock Hill will Light It Up Blue in support of families affected by autism and a worldwide campaign aiming to raise awareness about the developmental disorder that studies show afflicts about one in 110 people in the United States.

“The businesses that participated last year were very quick to jump on board” again, said Tobie Presler, founder and director of Rock Hill’s Chrysalis Autism Center, a nonprofit early intervention center for autistic children that spearheaded the campaign locally last year, as well.

By Monday, 35 businesses had agreed to give donations in exchange for light bulbs that will radiate blue tonight in honor of the Light It Up Blue, started by Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism research and advocacy agency, in 2010 to celebrate Worldwide Autism Awareness Day.

April is national Autism Awareness Month.

Last year was the first time Rock Hill participated in the initiative, which will see citizens worldwide adorn city landmarks, their homes and even their clothing with blue lights to raise awareness about the disorder. Landmarks that have shined blue lights include the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and the Paris Stock Exchange.

Spreading the word about autism, nationally and locally, is paramount, Presler said, especially when trying to support the families that daily face challenges and difficulties.

Parents with autistic children “are literally tied, in many instances, to their home and their child,” she said.

Presler’s work with autistic children, “a God-given passion,” started while she was a special education teacher in the Clover school district. An autistic child was soon enrolled into one of her classes.

“I was a good special ed teacher,” she said, but, “when this child came to my classroom, I was clueless and I felt like a failure.”

That was the catalyst she needed. She started learning as much as she could about autism. She developed and directed an early intervention program in the school district before opening Chrysalis in 2008.

Children with autism, she said, “are the most intriguing population of child.”

“There’s so much within these individuals, I know that if I work hard enough and they can get the treatment they need, they can reach their potential.”

A 2012 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one out of every 110 people has some form of autism spectrum disorders. The number in South Carolina has grown to about 42,000 people affected by some form of autism, according to the S.C. Autism Society.

The number of children served at the Chrysalis Center has grown since last year’s campaign, when Presler said they were serving six children.

Now, they offer services and therapy to 11, she said.

During a ceremony at City Hall at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Rock Hill City Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo will read a proclamation declaring April as Autism Awareness Month, and April 2 as Light It Up Blue Day in Rock Hill.

“We want to be proactive,” Oborokumo said, adding that “the city needs to acknowledge, support and recognize all of the various concerns and issues families deal with,” including autism and any other physical, mental and emotional health concerns of the community.

“And the Autism Awareness Day falls right into that,” she said.

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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