Homes and landmarks all over the globe will begin glowing blue on April 1. This symbolic event is known as Light It Up Blue and represents the kickoff to a month-long celebration of individuals living with autism.

Autism affects roughly 1% of the world’s population, with over 3.5 million Americans currently living with disorder. Autism affects each individual differently, but typical characteristics include trouble making eye contact, sensory processing and speech difficulty.

Common health concerns for affected individuals are not exclusive but can range from coordination problems to seizures.

Autism is a polarizing condition as nearly half of the individuals affected possess above average inelegance. These individuals experience the struggle presented by the disorder, while also trying to embrace the benefits it often entails.

Community member Emily Ybarra has an 8-year-old son with autism. She’s already begun seeing the glimpse of genius in her son, Cruise.

“He wants to be the smartest kid. His idol is Albert Einstein. He gets home from school and puts on his lab coat, goes into his lab and he’ll just experiment with things the rest of the day,” Ybarra said.

Cruise enjoys reading and soaks up nearly all of the information he reads. “He just has to know stuff. He wants to learn the facts. He’s not interested in reading stories,” Ybarra said of his disinterest in fiction.

Even though Ybarra has seen signs of intellectual promise in her son, she simply wants him to have the same opportunities as his peers.

“I want him to feel like he’s happy in his life. I don’t care if that means bagging groceries or him getting a PhD. I just want him to feel like he is a member of society,” said Ybarra.

Over the years, Ybarra has gone to extensive lengths to help her child succeed. This has included applied behavioral analyses and occupational therapies.

“Yes, we do have to do a lot more as parents, but if that means your child is going to be able to be independent or be able to reach goals you never thought they’d be able to reach, it’s totally worth it,” said Ybarra.

Weber State alumna Robyn Vaughan has a teen son with autism. Her husband, James, runs an autism advocacy group in Weber County. Families of Autism and Asperger’s Standing Together (F.A.A.S.T.) has brought training programs to law enforcement and air travel workers to provide a clearer understand of how to handle individuals with autism.

Vaughan values the opportunities she’s had to help others understand the condition.

“One of the things that I think I appreciate the most is the opportunity to teach someone more about individuals with autism, their diverse needs and, most importantly, how they can play an important role in our world and can contribute to society,” she said.

Autism has helped Vaughan see life in a different light. “Having a child with autism has helped me to live my life with more purpose and meaning. It has helped me to be more understanding and patient and compassionate of people and their struggles and with my own shortcomings. It has helped me to learn how to be flexible, to make goals and to learn that sometimes things don’t always go as planned, and that’s ok.”

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