By Bejay Browne
ON Monday evening Paphos town hall, the castle at the harbour in Kato Paphos, archaeological sites the court house and some other buildings will be lit up with blue lights in support of Autism Awareness day.
All over the world thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes, businesses and communities emit blue lights on April 2nd, in recognition of people living with autism. Autism-friendly events and educational activities also take place all month long to increase understanding and acceptance and gather worldwide support.
Marina Fylaktou, manager of the Cyprus Autism Association centre in Paphos told the Cyprus Mail that marking the day provides a chance to raise awareness and start conversations about autism.
“The purpose is to inform people about autism and the steps taken to smoothly integrate autistic people into society.”
On Monday evening a parade of supporters, wearing blue and carrying blue balloons and placards, will set off from the Paphos centre at 7pm and walk to Paphos municipality in the centre of the town, where the building will then be bathed in blue light.
Flyaktou said that members of the public are invited to participate and blue t-shirts will be provided for those without blue clothes to wear.
The Paphos centre manager said that far more needs to be done and more funds raised to ensure that the centre can expand and offer more help to children with autism.
“We currently provide programmes to help adults enjoy better life and have fun. They also go on trips around Paphos to help them to socialise more,” she said.
The centre offers help to adults with autism five days a week from 7.30am to 3pm, but Flyaktou said that there are a huge number of enquiries from parents of children with autism and the association would like to relocate to a larger place in future, in order to increase the help offered and implement suitable programmes for children as well.
“Parents contact us for help and advice and many contact us after their child has been diagnosed to find out what they can do next.”
The association can offer help to parents often daunted by a diagnosis on what to do and who to speak to, as well as give support, she said
In 2007 the United Nations designated April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day April and ‘light it up blue’ soon followed, which sees supporters wear blue and buildings lit in blue to highlight awareness.
World Autism Awareness Day kicks off a month of autism awareness with all sorts of events taking place worldwide.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions which present challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. There are many types of autism, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
In Cyprus, there are more than 15,000 children and adults in the autism spectrum, and it is more common in boys than girls.
The Autism Association was founded in Cyprus in 1990 and is a charitable non-profit organisation and the main purpose of the body is to work to secure the rights of Autistic people, in order to ensure a better quality of life.
In May 2004 in Limassol, the charity opened their first specialised intervention centre for rehabilitation, training, treatment, protection and employment for children and adults with Autism Syndrome.
In January 2009, a similar facility centre opened in Paphos and in January 2010 a further one in Nicosia.
The facilities operate as day-care centres, and in Limassol and Nicosia there is also an afternoon programme for children, including music, speech and occupational therapy as well as special education.
“We are always looking for volunteers and people to help us raise funds, so please get in touch if you would like to help,” she said
On Monday, similar events will take place at other municipalities across the island in support of Autism Awareness Day.
Autism Centre Paphos: Evrou Street 2B, 8028, (close to the Technical School roundabout).