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Lighting Huntsville blue for autism awareness

Huntsville Item - 4/20/2017

April 20--Folks in Huntsville are lighting it up blue tonight at an autism awareness program.

For the fourth year in a row, Holiday Inn Express general manager Sheryl Miller and her hotel staff will hold an Autism Speaks Awareness-Light It Up Blue event from 6 to 8 p.m. Everyone is invited, and everybody is encouraged to join the crowd around 6:45 p.m. for a community photo to show support for autism awareness.

There will be a silent auction for paintings done by special education students at Huntsville schools. All donations, Miller said, will go to Autism Speaks.

"The kids love their group paintings," Miller said this week. "We have 13 paintings that are really nice. We'll hang those up and auction them off during the Light It Up Blue event. We're going to do a community photo with everybody who comes to support autism awareness. We've partnered with Mama Juanita's on this, and we'll take the picture outside by our big, blue sign."

There will be raffle tickets, games and food. Representatives from Bayes Achievement, Believe Therapies, Learning Rx and Huntsville ISD's special education and transportation departments will be on hand to answer questions about their programs. Members of Project Sunshine will also be there to play games and do activities with some of the community's most special students.

"Our purpose is to spread the word about autism," Miller said. "The goal is to really bring awareness of what autism is and how people are affected by it, so they can build a support system. That's what I want for Huntsville. I want a support system built for the different families because they do not all know what resources they have available to them."

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors and speech and nonverbal communication. There are many subtypes of autism, and every person who suffers with it can have unique strengths and challenges.

Most of the strengths and challenges are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences and many are accompanied by medical issues such as GI disorders, seizures and sleep disturbances. According to AutismSpeaks.org, one in 68 children is on the autism spectrum.

Last year, Miller pushed for the City of Huntsville to join the Light It Up Blue campaign by shining blue lights on the 67-foot statue of Sam Houston on Interstate 45. City administrators discussed the idea, but decided not to do it.

"The statue, at least as I understand, is absolutely intended to be something of a sacred structure and not to be an all-season Christmas tree to be decorated for various reasons. That's not what it's for," city manager Matt Benoit said last spring. "We find no problem with the (autism awareness) cause. The difference is the precedence of all the things that have been requested. There have been some serious requests, not altogether different from what Miller is requesting."

Disappointed, but far from deterred, Miller continued planning Huntsville's Light It Up Blue event. She loves what other communities like Paris, Texas, are doing to bring awareness to autism and she's thrilled to see people in Huntsville get behind her hotel's campaign.

"I'd love for us to be recognized for something bigger," Miller said. "After the city made its decision on the Sam Houston Statue, I decided to go big in another way. We're going to do a community photo this year. It's important for people in our community to know we support them."

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(c)2017 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)

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