“Light It Up Blue” at Yokota
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- On April 2, statues, buildings and historical monuments worldwide light up in blue to spread awareness of autism and Yokota Air Base, Japan, was no exception.
Well known landmarks at Yokota, to include the flagpoles at the 374th Airlift Wing Headquarters building, the base track and various statues were lit with blue light in support of the event.
"We put the event together to show the support of diversity at Yokota," said Jennifer Jones, Exceptional Family Member Program special needs coordinator. "We have special needs families here on base and with autism awareness month in April, I thought this would be an excellent way to showcase that support."
Children from Yokota's elementary, middle and high schools and the child development centers also participated by making artwork to be displayed in the Yokota Community Center for the month of April.
Airmen from around the base also stepped up and volunteered to make the event a success. More than 60 individuals helped out.
"I volunteered to spread information about autism," said Airman 1st Class Carlos Tovar, 374th Civil Engineer Squadron, event volunteer. "At first I didn't know too much about it. Now that we are spreading the knowledge, I'm spreading it here and back at home. I'm posting a lot of information on my facebook and telling people to promote it by wearing blue and using blue lights outside their homes."
Having an event that covers the whole base helps increase the knowledge about it and end confusion.
"People's reference to what autism is may be different and that may lead to a lot of conflicts in schools and at home," said Julia Stilchen, event volunteer. "If people don't realize what it is, children with autism could be greatly misunderstood. So it's really important to have wide-spread awareness, so there can be acceptance and understanding. If not, then they could grow up feeling like an outcast and that they don't belong."
An autism support group is available at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center for any base personnel. More events are scheduled to happen for the month of April to help raise autism awareness.
"Autism affects one in 88 children and Yokota is not immune to that statistic," Jones said. "There are children on base that have autism or an autism spectrum disorder. The most important thing to consider is to be patient and to be accepting of all, whether they have autism or not."
To learn more about Light It Up Blue or autism and autism spectrum disorders, visit www.autismspeaks.org
The next event scheduled for the support group is a movie night at the AFRC May at 6:30 featuring Autism: The Musical.