SALEM — The snow emergency lights were lit in Beverly and Salem yesterday, but there wasn't a flake of snow in sight.
The blue lights were turned on in support of the "Light It Up Blue" campaign for World Autism Awareness Day. Blue lights were lit for autism awareness around the globe yesterday, including on the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower and even Fenway Park.
A group of close to 40 adults and children braved a chilly wind last night to walk a lap around the Salem Common, carrying blue glow sticks in support of autism awareness.
Parents United of Salem, the nonprofit that organized last night's walk, also passed out special blue light bulbs to participants to illuminate their homes.
The group circled the common as the sun set, many of them pushing strollers or walking dogs on leashes.
Salem residents Melissa and Kevin Hankens brought their 20 month-old son, Benjamin, to walk in support of a neighbor who has a child with autism.
"We were so happy to come and support them," Melissa said. "You'd never know (her neighbor has autism). He's a perfectly normal kid, who does perfectly normal kid stuff."
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders. It is a "spectrum disorder" that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.
Autism Awareness Month — April — comes on the heels of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recent report that revealed 1 in 88 children were diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum by the age of 8 in 2008.
That statistic was a sharp increase from 2006, when it was 1 in 110 children, and in 2002, when it was about 1 in 155 children.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
Mark your calendars
Autism awareness fair organized by Parents United of Salem
Saturday, April 14, 3:30 to 5 p.m.
On the Salem Common (around the gazebo)
Free and open to the public
Representatives from numerous North Shore organizations that provide support for families with autism will distribute information and answer questions, including the Northeast Arc, For Jake's Sake, North Shore Infant and Toddler Program, and others.
Kids activities and noncompetitive, two-mile family run/walk around the common
For more information or to volunteer, contact Melissa Wilson at email@example.com.