teacher and student hold up chain for autism awareness walkDutchess BOCES will Light it Up Blue this Friday, April 26, 2024, for Autism Awareness Month! Staff and students are invited to wear blue to show support.  

“Many of the students in the Pegasus program are diagnosed with autism, so I wanted to bring awareness to our community so that everybody knows what autism is,” shared Krystine Nardozzi, who spearheaded the upcoming celebration. Nardozzi teaches in the Pegasus program, serving students who have multisensory or motor deficiencies and developmental delays in physical, cognitive and psychomotor capabilities. 

Pegasus students created and hung posters across the buildings at BOCES for Autism Awareness Month. Some were to promote Light it Up Blue Day, and others shared facts about autism, including the following: 

  • It is estimated that 1 in 36 children in the United States have autism. 
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be reliably diagnosed by age 2, but children may be diagnosed at earlier ages. 
  • ASD is four times more common in boys than in girls. 
  • Individuals with ASD may be very creative and find a passion and talent for music, theater, art, dance and singing quite easily. 
  • About 50,000 individuals with ASD will exit high school each year in the United States. Many services required by law end abruptly after high school, leaving young adults under-supported. 
  • Some people with autism may also engage in repetitive behaviors, like hand-flapping or spinning. These behaviors can provide a sense of comfort or calmness in overwhelming or stressful situations. 
  • There is no cure for autism, but there are treatments, such as ABA therapy, that can help a person with autism function and live a happy and fulfilling life. 

Student creates poster for light it up blue dayIn addition to facts, some posters celebrate well-known individuals with autism, including Temple Grandin, who is a renowned professor, best-selling author, animal behaviorist and autism advocate. 

Pegasus student Robert Popolizio shared that working on the posters made him happy. “On Friday we need to rock our blue for Autism Awareness,” he shared. When asked what he wished others knew about autism, Popolizio added, “It’s OK to stim.” “Stimming,” short for self-stimulation, are repetitive body movements individuals with autism may engage in for a variety of reasons, including to cope with emotions. 

“Autism awareness is important generally because increasingly ever year more and more students and adults are being diagnosed as being on the spectrum. The spectrum isn’t a spectrum of inches, it’s a spectrum of miles,” shared Denise Dzikowski, BOCES’ executive director for special and alternative education, speaking on how autism affects individuals differently. “Students come to us with a variety of needs. We would like to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable in this environment and increasing awareness is a way to ensure that.” 

Light it Up Blue Day is just one way to celebrate Autism Awareness Month. The Autism Directory Service (ADS), an organization which provides grants to support families with autism and organizes awareness programs, is holding the 2024 Hudson Valley Walk for Autism at James Baird Park on April 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.  

BOCES staff including Nardozzi created a team call Phenomenally Pegasus for the walk, and Dutchess BOCES Faculty Association will have a table at the event. Pegasus students are getting involved as well, creating the chain for the beginning of the walk.  

The event will feature bands, crafts, story time with Disney princesses, food trucks, resources providers and more. The money raised at the event with help individuals and families in the Hudson Valley living with autism. The registration fee is $10 and individuals on the spectrum are free. Visit the ADS website for more information.