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Light it Up Blue Celebration

With blue balloons, multi-colored toys, and sand pits, Alisal Union School District observed Light it Up Blue, a national day of awareness and acceptance for autism at Bardin Elementary, home of the district’s special education preschool.

Boy playing with building blocks

“This is the fourth year we are doing ‘Light it Up’ for autism, this is just our family’s party,” said Cathy Alvarez, from the Alisal Union School District Bardin Special Education Preschool. “This is (the students’) place: they can touch, they can yell, they can play. It’s all for them.”

Bardin special day class has 60 students, about 70 percent of whom have autism, Alvarez said.

Alisal USD is one of the few districts in Monterey County that regularly performs Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2, what’s considered the gold standard for autism assessment, Alvarez said.

Boy playing with blue balloon

“What’s happening in autism, kids are not getting diagnosed until they’re between 4 and 5 years old, and from minority and (low income) communities it’s not until they’re 6 or 7,” Alvarez said.

Students at Alisal can be assessed beginning when they’re 2 years and 3 months old, and start special education classes at 3, Alvarez said.

“People think that, because it’s not compulsory to attend school until the first grade, they should not come. But it is (compulsory) for special ed. We have so many families at Alisal impacted by autism, and it’s far to go to Stanford to get support,” Alvarez said.

During the celebration, children could make bubbles and build sand figures through the resources brought by Wheelie Mobile. They also tossed balloons and took photos on a blue screen. The event was attended by Bardin Principal Martin Gutierrez, Board Member Noemi Armenta, and Superintendent Hector Rico.

Boy blowing bubbles

And everyone had a great time, Alvarez said.

At a recent conference on autism at Stanford, Alvarez learned that the lifetime cost of having autism could reach $2.4 million. But early intervention goes a long way to lessen the load.

“What I would really like to do for the next phase is to have a parent program,” Alvarez said. “There’s so much we can do to help our families and ameliorate that cost.”