SRU shines light on autism


light up blue logo

March 25, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Like France's Eiffel Tower, New York's Madison Square Garden and the White House in Washington, D.C., Slippery Rock University will "Light It Up Blue" to raise awareness of autism and advocate for acceptance and inclusion.

As part of its month-long Autism Awareness Month program the University will host a "Light It Up Blue" ceremony at 6 p.m., April 7, at the Storm Harbor Equestrian Center, three Toto Transition Programs and an April 23 TRAILS 5K run 3K walk, sponsored by the Recreational Therapy Club and Autism Speaks U at SRU.

Ryan Campbell, a Slippery Rock University Area High School student on the autism spectrum and grandson of Kathleen Strickland, retired SRU dean of Education, and James Strickland, professor of English, will speak at the Light It Up Blue ceremony. Campbell's presentation is part of his high school senior project.

betsy kemeny


Betsy Kemeny, SRU assistant professor of recreational therapy, said the goal of SRU's month-long focus is to offer support to those with autism and their families, broaden awareness and turn awareness into action. Autism is a condition characterized by difficulty communicating, forming relationships and sensory issues.

Kemeny said she hopes students, faculty and staff will attend the "Light It Up Blue" ceremony and the 5K run 3K walk.

"In order to raise awareness, one of the best things you can do is to have students and faculty interact with people who have autism," Kemeny said. "A lot of times we have misconceptions about what it really is. Once you've interacted with someone who has a disability, you realize that they are no different from you."

Kemeny said at least 45 SRU recreational therapy majors would be on-hand to help at "Light It Up Blue."

Autism Speaks launched "Light It Up Blue" in support of World Autism Day. People are encouraged to wear blue and light up their communities for awareness. Globally, more than 1,000 structures in 180 U.S. cities and 30 countries, will shine a special blue light.

The Toto Transition programs will partner students with young people on the autism spectrum. In their role as peer-mentors, SRU students will serve as role models for social and educational development purposes.

Although the reasons remain unknown, autism is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in 68 children is on the autism spectrum, compared to one in 150 in 2000. The CDC said the total costs per year for caring for children on the spectrum in the U.S. is more than $11 billion, representing direct and in-direct costs from medical care to special education to lost parent productivity.

With so many children on the spectrum, Kemeny said it is important for SRU students to gain some awareness of this disorder.

"For every student, it would be good to at least be exposed to someone with autism because, no matter where you work you will encounter somebody that has autism or a family member that is dealing with it," she said. "We want students to be prepared to interact with people in their environment no matter what the communication difficulty."

Students, faculty and community members may sign up for the April 23 TRAILS 5K Run 3K walk at Cost is $20 before April 9. After April 9 and on-site, registration is $25.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 |