A blue button which can be purchased at Autism Yukon to help support World Autism Month and Light Yukon Up Blue. (Submitted/Autism Yukon)

World Autism Month underway

Light Yukon Blue continues despite COVID-19

Yukoners are joining the international community in recognizing World Autism Month and although it’s taking a different tone this year, the effort to raise awareness and focus on autism is continuing.

April marks World Autism Month. The initiative kicked off April 2 with World Autism Awareness Day, first declared by the UN in 2008. Support for the campaign is displayed with blue lights lit up at homes, businesses and other buildings.

“We understand the COVID-19 pandemic is causing disruption to our daily lives but please join this global campaign Light It Up Blue while staying at home and being safe,” Autism Speaks Canada, an advocate group for those on the spectrum, stated on its website.

The Yukon effort takes the form of Light Yukon Up Blue.

Autism Yukon executive director Leslie Peters said March 30 that in past years the initiative has served as a fundraiser. This year, though blue lights were sold through Autism Yukon, it became more of an awareness campaign.

“The biggest impact that COVID-19 has had on Light Yukon Up Blue is that it has basically turned it from a fundraiser into an awareness event,” Peters said. “We had hoped to bring some income in to Autism Yukon in order to fund workshops that we would like to bring to the Yukon. Now, I don’t think we will cover the costs of the advertising and purchasing of blue lights to sell.”

Autism Yukon hosts a number of workshops throughout the year. In the past, workshop and conference sessions have ranged from seeing the spectrum differently to managing behaviours and more. Along with a variety of workshops held throughout the year, some in partnership with other organizations, Autism Yukon also normally hosts support groups for family members, gatherings for families, and offers a sensory room among other things, all of which are on-hold.

Advertising and planning for the Light Yukon Up Blue event was already underway with blue lights and buttons marking the annual event to be sold at Wykes’ Your Independent Grocer as well as the Autism Yukon office for the campaign, with the funds from the sales going to Autism Yukon.

The Government of Yukon’s Administration Building sign encircled in blue lights for World Autism Month and the Light Yukon Up Blue campaign. (Submitted/Autism Yukon)

On March 17, however, Autism Yukon announced it would no longer be able to sell buttons and lights at Wykes’ due to COVID-19 concerns.

Rather, supporters were encouraged to contact Autism Yukon for lights and button orders of more than $20 with the organization to deliver the orders to Whitehorse doorsteps on March 31.

“I thought that perhaps we’d have to cancel, but our families that had been working hard on this said, ‘No—it is what it is—lets run with this.’ So we have, and it’s been encouraging,” Peters said.

Those who wanted to support the campaign but are unable to purchase lights were encouraged to use blue Christmas lights to light up their homes or businesses.

Despite the change, Peters says the Autism Yukon board has no regrets in moving forward with the event.

“A lot of our members are still eagerly participating, and we have been able to create a lot of awareness about autism, which is our biggest goal,” she said.

Based on the purchases of lights and families she’s spoken to, Peters said at least 20 households participated in Light Yukon Up Blue this year.

“I definitely think that people will participate as much this year…perhaps more, which is what it’s all about after all,” she noted, stating she’s looking forward to seeing photos of local buildings lit up blue.

As planned originally, there will be prizes awarded to one participating household and one participating business.

Autism Speaks Canada also encouraged supporters throughout the country to raise awareness through #LightUpBlue frames to social media profile pictures, by posting selfies featuring “I Love LIUB” signs, creating Facebook fundraisers for the cause, and also offered a colouring page for kids that could be downloaded and printed to then be displayed in windows.

While the Light Yukon Up Blue event is largely serving as an awareness tool this year, Autism Yukon staff are continuing to work from home planning for the months ahead.

“Rebecca, Nicole, Karen and Leslie will continue to work on LAUNCH into Life, Project Lifesaver, and Caregiver Skills Training planning from home. We will continue to look for PEERS funding as well,” it’s stated on the group’s Facebook page with officials also noting they look forward to reopening the sensory room to clients when it is deemed safe to do so.

Peters said the group will also be looking at potential fundraising events to be held later in the year. In the meantime, Autism Awareness Month will continue throughout April with a Kindness Quest theme this year. Autism Speaks is posting a kindness quest each week on its Facebook page.

Its first quest is to “spread understanding and acceptance for people with autism.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com