BU News

From Paris to Palmdale, they’ll be shining a light on autism April 2

March 26, 2015

When the Arc de Triomphe in Paris turned blue last April, so did parts of Lancaster, California, thanks to the efforts of Jennifer Slater-Sanchez and other parents of children with autism.

Jennifer Slater-Sanchez (standing, right) and other organizers of the Light It Up Blue effort in Palmdale meet with Mayor James C. Ledford Jr to discuss plans.

Jennifer Slater-Sanchez (standing, right) and other organizers of the Light It Up Blue effort in Palmdale meet with Mayor James C. Ledford Jr to discuss plans.

This year Slater-Sanchez has her sights set on adding buildings in Palmdale, the home to Brandman University’s Antelope Valley campus where alumnus Slater-Sanchez is an adjunct professor of education.

Light It Up Blue” is celebrated each year on April 2 to shine a light on autism as a growing global health crisis. It is one of only three health issues to be recognized with its own day by the United Nations.

By shining blue lights on buildings as diverse as the Empire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and the Capitol Records Building in Los Angeles, event organizers hope to increase awareness about the importance of early diagnosis and intervention, scientific research, and the unique talents and skills of persons with autism around the world.

Slater-Sanchez knows the benefits of early intervention and the need for awareness as she watches her 9-year-old son make his way through life.

“As a parent, it’s your life 24/7, present or future. Having other people I can talk to – that got it – gave me hope. There are a lot of positives that can come out of it, and I’m not going to give up thinking that he’s going to be the best that he can be,” she said in a recent interview.

Twins Jacob and Gracie in one of Jennifer Slater-Sanchez's favorite photos of her children.

Twins Jacob and Gracie, in one of Jennifer Slater-Sanchez’s favorite photos of her children.

What is autism? Autism spectrum disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. Major characteristics, which vary by degree, include difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

Once she came to terms with her son’s diagnosis, she began to get involved and soon discovered that Antelope Valley residents had to rely on autism-related activities in Los Angeles.  So the Cactus Intermediate School assistant principal, who teaches the “Art and Craft of Teaching” to students in Brandman’s Teaching Credential Program, began reaching out to other parents.

First it was a Facebook page where parents exchange ideas and offer support. Then she asked the Cinemark if they would set aside time on a Saturday morning for a movie showing, one with lights left on, no previews and nobody shushing their children.  Although the theater manager was originally skeptical that such a need existed, a theater full of parents and children changed his mind.

“Now it’s once a month. Lots of people who couldn’t go to movies before can. Families can relax and kids can be themselves,” said Slater-Sanchez, who now gets other people handing her flyers promoting the movie nights.

The one-on-one focus provided by A.Skate lets children with autism experience the sport safely.

The one-on-one focus provided by A.Skate lets children with autism experience the sport safely.

After the movies came A.Skate, a chance for kids with autism to get one-on-one skate lessons.  The event depends on donations and merchandise sales and volunteers. Efforts are underway for an event this May or June after successful events in October 2013 and June 2014.

“I’m not done. I want to make the Antelope Valley a place that embraces kids with autism,” said Slater-Sanchez, who grew up there and continues to live there with her husband, Danny, and twins, Jacob and Gracie.

Because of her son, she’s learned to voice ideas, knowing the worst she’ll hear is “no.” She’s learned to ask other people to help. She’s taken the applied behavior analysis approach taught at Brandman for the Applied Behavior Analysis Graduate Certificate to heart, modifying her own behavior so that there’s positive reinforcement for positive behavior and not for negative behavior.

The future might hold a doctorate. She would love to look at how the rise in autism is affecting both general education and special education.

And especially for the month of April, she’ll be thinking blue, the color of autism.

Ten things every child with autism wishes you knew:

  •  I am a child.
  • My senses are out of sync.
  • Distinguish between won’t and can’t.
  • I’m a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally.
  • Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.
  • I’m visually oriented.
  • Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
  • Help me with social interactions.
  • Identify what triggers my meltdowns.
  • Love me unconditionally.

A more complete explanation by Ellen Notbohm is available on the website Autism Speaks.

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