Photograph: courtesy of Barry Butler/Autism Speaks Chicagoland
Tonight, when dozens of Chicago buildings light up blue, it will be in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. The worldwide effort taking place today, April 2—and symbolized by those blue light bulbs that have been on sale all month at Home Depot—aims to spread the word about the increasingly diagnosed (yet largely misunderstood) neurological disorder that, at last count, affected 1 in 88 Americans.
In Chicago, advocates and families with Autism Speaks Chicago and other organizations will rally at the Bean in Millennium Park at 7 p.m. As the sun goes down, the Willis Tower, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower, among others, will broadcast blue—a symbol of unity in a state that has recently experienced anything but when it comes to this issue.
Since 2011, Illinois has been under a federal court order to rebalance the way it funds services for autistic people. As the terrain shifts, there’s more hope—but also more confusion. I wrote about how the situation affects autistic adults, in particular, in my March story “When Autistic Children Are Children No More.”
The situation in Illinois is particularly dire. According to the National State of the States in Developmental Disabilities Report, the state consistently ranks toward the bottom nationally in two key measures: the amount of funding it provides to support home-based care, and the dollars it funnels toward small, community-based housing arrangements. This is especially problematic for autism—consider that, nationwide, roughly 70 percent of autistic people live at home or with a spouse. Much to the ire of families and disability advocates, the bias in Illinois has been toward institutionalization, at least until the lawsuit.
This worldwide effort is a much-needed reminder, and a vitally important effort to raise awareness here in Chicago.