Shining a Light on Autism

Tufts participates in annual event on April 2 to highlight concerns about the brain disorder

Tufts University will observe World Autism Awareness Day by joining thousands of participants around the globe for Light It Up Blue, an initiative to broaden public understanding of this brain disorder in which social and communications skills do not develop normally.

The third annual event, on April 2, is sponsored by Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.

On that day, dozens of landmarks around the world will be lit in blue, and thousands of participants will illuminate their homes with blue lights and lanterns, wear blue clothing or host parties with blue-themed food and drink to “shine a light on autism.” In past years, such familiar landmarks as the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, the Paris Stock Exchange and the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia were bathed in blue light.

Tufts President Anthony P. Monaco, a neuroscientist whose own research has focused on the genetic underpinnings of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, says it is important to make more people aware of autism, the signs of which usually appear within the first three years of life.

Prior to coming to Tufts last summer, Monaco led a neurogenetics research group at the University of Oxford that was the first to identify a gene specifically involved in human speech and language, and he is considered a world authority on the genetics of autism spectrum disorders.

Monaco said that because of his personal involvement in autism research, Gifford House, the president’s residence on the Medford/Somerville campus, will be lit in blue to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

“I am pleased and proud that Tufts will take part in this event,” Monaco says. “We must continue to focus our research on developing new insights and intervention therapies for autism. Raising awareness and funding are crucial to helping families cope with this disorder.”

An estimated 1 in 110 American children has a disorder that is on the autism spectrum—a 600 percent increase over the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Improved diagnostic techniques and heightened awareness account for some of that increase. Research has found that autism is three to four times more common in boys than girls; estimates are that 1 in 70 boys in the United States has the disorder.

The U.N. General Assembly declared the first World Autism Awareness Day in 2007.


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