Liverpool is to become the first English city to light up its buildings blue to raise awareness of autism.
The Town Hall and St George’s Hall will be bathed in blue light on Wednesday 2 April to mark United Nations World Autism Awareness Day.
They will join other iconic locations around the world, including the Empire State Building in New York, Sydney Opera House, the World Trade Centre in Toronto and Niagara Falls for ‘Light It Up Blue’ to highlight the condition, which affects around 1 in 100 people.
The idea has come from Julie Simpson, a mum from Speke who is a member of Liverpool Autistic Children’s Alliance which supports parents, carers and young people with the condition. Her son, Joe, has autism and Julie is a passionate campaigner for greater understanding of the condition.
Julie and Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP wrote to Mayor Joe Anderson asking if the city could turn its buildings blue. Now the Mayor is now writing to the owners of other prominent buildings in the city asking them to do the same.
Mayor Joe Anderson said: “I am absolutely delighted that we are able to help raise awareness of Autism by lighting up our buildings in blue and I am asking other buildings to do the same.
“It is really important that we do all we can to highlight autism and its symptoms to overcome ignorance around it, and also to support parent and carers.”
There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism – more than 1 in 100 of the population.
Julie Simpson said: “I feel very strongly about raising awareness of autism to try and make people understand how it affects children. As it is not a physical condition, people just assume young people with autism are being naughty.
“It is only by explaining to people about the condition that my child and others like him stand any chance of living a life like any other person rather than being judged or ridiculed by others.”
John Sorenson from Liverpool Autistic Children’s Alliance said: “It’s absolutely fantastic that the city council is supporting world autism awareness day and the Light It Up Blue campaign.
Raising awareness of autism enables campaigners and supporters to obtain the best interventions for autistic children during their crucial early childhood development years – many children never obtain this essential help, support and understanding.
“Consequently, this has a huge and often devastating impact upon these children and their families and denies the child the opportunity to reach their full potential. We hope as many people as possible will support this wonderful event and help our city to shine a light on autism and become a beacon of hope, support, inspiration and understanding for autistic children and their families.”
The National Autistic Society – the UK’s leading charity for people affected by autism – is backing the initiative.
Mark Lever, Chief Executive of The National Autistic Society, said: “We are really pleased to see Liverpool City Council marking World Autism Awareness Day so spectacularly and helping to raise public awareness about this lifelong developmental disability. Autism affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. Although some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives, others may need a lifetime of specialist support.
“Autism is much more common than many people think, affecting around 700,000 people in the UK – more than 1 in 100. If you include their families, autism touches the lives of over 2.7 million people. Despite this prevalence, a lot of misconceptions persist and we need to take every opportunity to increase understanding and awareness.”
Everton Football Club are raising awareness of autism at their match at Goodison Park against Arsenal on April 6th, including the distribution of flyers and collection buckets to raise money for the National Autistic Society in the fan zone.
In recent years, there has been a 25 percent increase in pupils diagnosed with autism in Liverpool due to improved assessment at an early age. In response, the city council is expanding the number of special school places. A new £6 million home for Millstead Primary School is being built in Everton, Abbot’s Lea Special School which specialises in educating young people with autism is getting an extra six classrooms and Palmerston Special School is also being extended.