VIRGINIA BEACH — Autism affects one in every 68 children and costs a typical family in the United States $60,000 per year, according to Autism Speaks.
This Sunday, look for a blue glow in several Beach businesses’ windows and porches to welcome Autism Awareness Month on World Autism Awareness Day.
Businesses participating in “Light It Up Blue” include the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Virginia Beach Convention Center, Tautog’s Restaurant, Doc Taylor’s Restaurant, Atkinson Realty and many more.
For one Atkinson Realty real estate broker, the issue hits close to home.
Mark Llobell, founder of the Virginia Autism Project and grandparent of an autistic child, says it’s important to raise awareness for the issue locally.
“We spearhead the initiatives here in the city between the public buildings and some of the private businesses to light up their buildings in blue and have their employees wear blue on April 2,” Llobell said.
“It lets families that have children with autism know that there are people who understand their cause and support our cause, and support them … a diagnosis of autism for one of your children is a pretty tough pill to swallow.”
Llobell said if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve only met one of them.
“Every one of them has different characteristics and different traits,” Llobell said.
“Some are very high-functioning, some are low-functioning, some are very susceptible to sound or color or smells. Others can converse freely with you, some a savants in certain areas where they can count numbers or remember bus schedules for ten years straight.”
Local restaurants are making an effort to raise awareness for autism, too.
“We absolutely just want to support all the efforts against the terrible battle with autism,” Bill Gambrell, Tautog and Doc Taylor’s Restaurants owner, said in an interview. “We have lots of friends, relatives and customers who have been impacted by autism and we are so glad to help.”
Both restaurants’ outdoor lights are white on normal days, but they will be blue Sunday.
The lighting on landmarks will also change this weekend, including the law enforcement memorial on 35th Street, the light garden at Princess Anne Commons Gateway Park and the wave sculpture at 31st Street.
This is the fifth year Virginia Beach businesses and landmarks have participated in the event, according to a city news release.
Beach residents can also participate in the event by changing a porch light with a blue light bulb, or simply by wearing a blue colored T-shirt.
“I am pleased that the city of Virginia Beach can support this worthy effort,” Mayor Will Sessoms said in the release. “Autism Spectrum Disorder affects more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Those are astounding numbers and we’ve got to do everything we can to address this problem.”