Car horns honked and neighbors waved in support and recognition as the students held their second annual Autism Awareness Parade on April 30, the last day of nationally recognized Autism Awareness Month.
The 60 District 75 students, who are in grades from elementary through middle school, wore jigsaw puzzle pieces around their necks. They had created the puzzle pieces in their classrooms to symbolize the complexity of the autism spectrum and to show that no child is alone.
“Like jigsaw puzzle pieces, we all fit together,” said art teacher Ann Bay.
The school’s paraprofessionals, therapists, teachers and parents joined the march, and participants wore blue and waved blue balloons to honor the color that symbolizes autism.
Though most of the students can’t express themselves verbally, said teacher Chantal Songo, “You could see their excitement and pride in what they were doing.”
For a week before the parade, Songo said, each class was busy working on posters and puzzle pieces and making buttons that read, “Traveling life’s journey using a different road map.”
The school kicked off Autism Awareness Month on April 2 with everyone wearing blue, said teacher and parade organizer Kianah Smith. A list of books on autism was delivered to the two other schools that share the building so “everyone will know who we are” and so all the children will understand each other, Smith said.
Other activities in the monthlong observance included each class cooking a snack that contained something blue and a bake sale and fashion show at the school’s main site to raise funds for autism research.
Teacher Julie Blumer described improvements in resources for the growing population of students diagnosed with autism, including devices to help students communicate, hands-on workshop training for families and a move toward a more standard curriculum in math and writing.
“We wanted to shine a light on how autism affects children and families,” Blumer said. “The parade helps our children feel proud of who they are” and helps them understand that “it’s OK to be different.”