Lighting up blue for autism

PHOTO: Lighting up blue for autism

From March 30 to April 2, a number of iconic landmarks in Singapore will turn blue in support of autism awareness.

These buildings include Ion Orchard, St Andrew's Cathedral, St Andrew's Autism Centre, St Andrew's Community Hospital, and the Singapore Flyer.

They will be bathed in blue light as part of the global Light It Up Blue campaign to mark World Autism Awareness Day, which falls on April 2 every year.

This campaign is in its third year and has seen major global landmarks like the Sydney Opera House in Australia, Canada's Niagara Falls and the Christ The Redeemer statue in Brazil lit up. (See report above.)

This is the first time Singapore will be involved in the global light-up and the local campaign is organised by a group of students from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.

Their aims: To raise awareness about autism and to look into how to better integrate autistic people into society.

The organisers hope the visual spectacle will inspire people to learn more about the disability.

Said Miss An Jingzhi, 24, the head of the organising committee for the project: "People with autism are often misunderstood. We hope to inspire the general population to start finding out more about the truth of this disability and to look out for this group of special individuals among us."

There will be an event at Ion Orchard to count down to the light-up at 7.30pm on March 30, with a performance by the Hwa Chong Institution Band.

The band's community involvement programme coordinator, Khoo Yihan, 15, said the band members themselves would benefit from the participation.

"We hope to develop empathy through such an eye-opener. And as music can help autism, we find it appropriate to perform," he said.

Non-profit organisation

Their performance would be coordinated by Shoulders-SG, a newly formed non-profit organisation that seeks to promote public awareness of autism.

Said its director Yap Keng Ann: "By involving themselves in such activities, young people can learn more about autism. This is a step in building a more inclusive society in Singapore."

Duke-NUS students, together with volunteers from St Andrew's Autism Centre, Autism Association (Singapore), Rainbow Centre and Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), will be giving out blue balloons and light sticks along Orchard Road to raise awareness of autism.

This is the first time that the four major institutions for autism have collaborated for a single event like this.

A spokesman for Ion Orchard, which will be lending its premises for the countdown event, said the synchronised light-up of iconic landmarks around the world sends a powerful message of uniting in the common cause of spreading knowledge about autism.

The spokesman added: "As Singapore's iconic retail destination for both locals and tourists, we hope that our participation will enhance the visibility of the initiative and raise greater awareness of World Autism Awareness Day."

There would also be a series of seminars held the next day at Pathlight School, focusing on clinical management and autistic individuals entering adulthood.

Ms Denise Phua, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC and also the supervisor of two special schools - Pathlight School and Eden School - applauded the efforts of the event's organisers and participants.

Ms Phua, who is also the president of Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), said: "This reminds everyone that it takes a village to build the kind of inclusive home we can be proud of."