“It’s just like Christmas.”
This is how autism advocate “Cowboy” Harrison Czapalay of Wolfville feels when he sees homes and businesses lit up with blue lights in support of World Autism Awareness Day.
25-year-old Czapalay said his mission is to be a voice for those who haven’t been encouraged to speak about their autism with the same level of confidence that he has.
It’s important to him to keep the annual Wolfville Lights It Up Blue Charity Barbecue in Clock Park going to help raise awareness of autism. Lamp posts are adorned with blue balloons for the event and people are encouraged to wear blue clothing in a show of support.
“People are now starting to realize that there is autism here in the Annapolis Valley and I wanted to make it something greater to raise the awareness,” he said.
The charity barbecue – held in support of the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia and the Acadia S.M.I.L.E. (Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience) program – was held on March 30. This was the fourth year for the event.
Czapalay said it makes him very proud to witness the strong level of support shown to him and others with autism by the many people who attend the barbecue. There’s been a “huge response” to his initiative.
“It’s almost like running for mayor,” he said.
Czapalay wants people with autism to get the help they need. Although he said that EA’s do a wonderful job, there needs to be more support and assistance offered through schools, for example.
Czapalay will be busy making presentations at schools over the coming week and he hopes to see lots of blue lights in Wolfville and other Valley communities in support of autism this year for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
He still participates in the Acadia S.M.I.L.E. program, which he said has grown immensely. Czapalay, who was diagnosed with autism at age three, credits the program with helping him become more social and interactive with others.
“That’s why I want to give back to them because they’ve supported me in a lot of ways and they’ve supported a lot of children and young adults,” he said. “For that matter, I don’t think there’s any other university that can pull off what Acadia does.”
Czapalay said it’s important for people to continue supporting the Annapolis Valley Chapter of Autism Nova Scotia, which operates an Autism Centre in Kingston. He said the centre helps many people on the autism spectrum and it’s important that this is well known to the greater community.
Founded in 2002, Autism Nova Scotia (ANS) is a non-profit, registered charity based in Halifax. ANS was originally the vision of Joan and Jack Craig, parents of an adult son with autism.
The organization strives to build community capacity to enhance understanding, acceptance, and inclusion of families and individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
ASD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder. People living with an ASD will experience challenges with communication and social interactions and will display restrictive and repetitive behaviour.
There are many degrees of autism, making each individual unique. All people living with autism respond to effective intervention.
- For more information on Autism Nova Scotia, visit www.autismnovascotia.ca.
- For more information on the Acadia S.M.I.L.E. program, visit www.smile.acadiau.ca.