There are a series of events scheduled to raise awareness of autism and celebrate the accomplishments of those who have it.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The local agencies that serve individuals with autism don't want to just raise awareness in April. They want to celebrate what those individuals bring to the community.
On Friday night at AdLib, the College Internship Program. Glee Club showed that off. The club took to the front of the room to sing songs and play guitar.
Next to them was a display and pieces of artwork created by local residents with autism — a tie in with the First Friday Art Walk program the city runs.
Later in the month, there will be gymnastics, yoga, support groups, and conferences. All of it is part of April being Autism Awareness month.
"Autism is important enough that it deserves monthlong of activities," said Allison Billard, the program director at the Housatonic Academy, Hillcrest Educational's therapeutic day school.
The local GO BLUE campaign is a collaborative effort of autism services providers Hillcrest Educational Foundation, College Internship Program, AdLib, Autism Connections, Berkshire County Arc, and UCP of Berkshire County, with assistance from Downtown Pittsfield Inc. and First Fridays Artswalk. It involved a whole slate of events intended to celebrate those with autism and connect with the community.
Locally, Hillcrest started celebrating the month by lighting Park Square up blue two years ago. Both City Hall and Park Square featured blue lights, as places throughout the world do. Last year, Hillcrest branched out and put together a resource fair with other agencies. Meanwhile, businesses downtown joined the effort in lighting up their storefronts.
"This is the third event I've been involved in. In 2015, our autism awareness event started very small. It was something Hillcrest organized, we did a nice little celebratory event in Park Square. Last year, we decided to expand on how it started and we got a couple other agencies involved," Billard said.
This year the Go Blue campaign has expanded again. A letter went out again asking downtown businesses to light up their storefronts blue for the month.
"All of the agencies, we do so much with each other to respond to the needs of families and individuals with disabilities and autism," said Berkshire County Arc Chief Operations Officer Maryann Hyatt.
That relationship between the various agencies is about to get even closer.
Behavioral Specialist Supervisor for BC Arc Sopheap Nhim said there is a lot of resources for families and individuals with autism, but often families don't necessarily know where to go to access each service.
"We thought it would be great to form this group. We are a group of providers committed to connecting the community with resources and our goal is to better streamline our services through collaborations with other agencies," Nhim said.
The Autism Collaborative of Berkshire County is the next logical step. Next Friday, various organizations will come together for the first time to look at how they can more closely align. The first step is for all of the services and material to be compiled into a single packet of information for families. From there the organizations will consider ways to help provide the services better.
"The collaboration efforts that have gone on until this point is small compared to where we are going to go as time goes on," said Hillcrest President Jerry Burke said. "It is all about trying to make sure the needs of the community are met and we clearly have a wealth of talent in all different aspects of disabilities."
At the end of April, a rally will be held in Park Square on April 28. That will cap off the month of programming and promote the accomplishments of individuals with autism.
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