WINSLOW — For Stephanie Weiss, the blue lights mean a lot.

She’s reminded of her two sons, William, 9, and Nicholas, 7, who receive special education instruction at Winslow Elementary School. Williams has autism and Nicholas has Asperger’s Syndrome, a milder form of autism.

This month, which is Autism Awareness Month, the elementary school is for the first time participating in a national “Light It Up Blue” campaign by selling blue lightbulbs to parents, teachers and staff. The blue lights are intended to light up area houses during the month of April as a way of recognizing autism and its effects on families.

The blue lights also remind Weiss of how her sons have been welcomed into their school community.

“It means that people understand what a prevalent disability this is,” Weiss said, citing statistics that a child is now diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes. “The blue lights symbolize support for children and families dealing with this 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The national campaign kicked off Friday and Saturday with blue lights illuminating prominent buildings across the country and in Canada, including the Empire State Building and the CN Tower in Toronto. World Autism Awareness Day was Saturday.

Amy Benham, a special education teacher at Winslow Elementary, is organizing the blue lightbulb program. She purchased 250 bulbs and has been selling them at the school for $3 each.

More than 200 bulbs had been sold as of Tuesday, Benham said, and the proceeds will go to the Autism Society of Maine and the elementary school’s own autism program for children such as William and Nicholas Weiss.

During April, Benham will also be speaking to the school’s classrooms about autism. She also noted that Winslow’s program is the only one locally to focus specifically on autistic students.

“Autism is such a huge issue for many families and people,” Benham said. “It’s to build awareness and, in addition, it is really vital for people to understand what it means.”

Benham said her caseload at the school is nine children, of which seven have autism.

What most people may not realize about the disorder is that it affects children in many different ways, Benham said.

“When you say somebody has autism, people get one picture in their head,” she said. “But they’re all so different. It’s a spectrum disorder. Stephanie Weiss’s two boys are good examples. They do well, function independently and are quite bright, and there are kids on the other end of the spectrum who may need an education technician’s assistance throughout the day, and they’re non-verbal.”

Weiss said both her sons have made good progress at Winslow Elementary.

“It’s been extremely positive,” she said. “Amy has an incredible staff that will go above and beyond. Children with autism all learn differently, which is why it’s such a difficult disability to treat, because what works for one kid will not work for the next. It’s constant problem-solving.”

For more information about the national campaign, visit www.lightitupblue.org.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]


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