This week, iconic landmarks all over the world – including the Empire State Building, the Opera House in Sydney, the pyramids in Egypt and the Christ the Reedemer statue in Brazil – will all be shining bright blue lights to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.
And right here in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be doing their part to join this global initiative.
“What’s great is that we’re able to take that and localize it and make it a Pittsburgh thing as well too,” said Brett Spitale, executive director of Greater PA Autism Speaks. “So you’ll see a lot of buildings and different landmarks around the Pittsburgh area that night that’ll be lit up blue in awareness for autism.
“It’s great that the folks down at the Penguins help us out with this. Pittsburgh is such a great sports town, so what better way to raise awareness than through Pittsburgh sports.”
On World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks celebrates its international Light It Up Blue Campaign. Thousands of those previously mentioned iconic landmarks, communities, businesses and homes across the globe unite by shining bright blue lights in honor of the millions of individuals and families around the world affected by autism.
While World Autism Awareness Day actually takes place on April 2, the Penguins will be celebrating it today. The Penguins’ coaches, hockey operations and front office staff are all wearing blue; there will be special graphics on the American Eagle LED pucks; and the ice will be illuminated blue during intermissions.
While all employees will be wearing blue puzzle piece lapel pins just for the day, Penguins goaltender Thomas Greiss wears an Autism Awareness decal on the back of his helmet every single game.
It’s a cause that’s important to him, as his girlfriend Brittany Palmer’s niece has been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. They both do a lot to raise awareness, including working with the Steel City Icebergs throughout the season – a local special needs hockey team that plays in the American Special Hockey Association. They've both been special guests at the club's practices, where they skate around with the players offering pointers, tips and just getting to know them.
“My girlfriend's niece is autistic and it's a different cause because it's family,” Greiss said. ‘They're great kids and they're a lot of fun to work with.”
World Autism Awareness Day was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis. Autism is one of only three health issues to be recognized with its own day by the United Nations.
“Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological disorder that has to do with many different neurological things that aren’t happening in the brain,” Spitale said. “That’s why we’re really here, to be able to raise the awareness and raise the funds to fund the research to try and figure out what’s going on here.
“This is our day throughout the year that really allows us to be able to bring it to the forefront. Last year when we were doing stuff like this, we were trending the entire day on Twitter and Facebook and all social media outlets nationally. So it’s really a huge, huge day for us and it’s really our day to be able to say you know what, here we are, our folks need some help, our families need some help, let’s shine a light on this.”