Eau Claire lights it up blue for autism awareness

National Autism Awareness Month kicked off with the Phoenix Park bridge being bathed in blue

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

This year marked Eau Claire’s first ever “Light up the Chippewa Valley Blue: Blue Claire Fair.” Festivities were organized by the Autism Society of the Chippewa Valley (ASCV).

Eau Claire’s celebration of National Autism Awareness Month kicked off on Monday — National Autism Awareness Day — at the Royal Credit Union (RCU) Corporate Center in downtown Eau Claire.

This year marked Eau Claire’s first ever “Light up the Chippewa Valley Blue: Blue Claire Fair.” Festivities were organized by the Autism Society of the Chippewa Valley (ASCV).

Amanda Olson, a board member of the ASCV, discussed the value of events like the Blue Claire Fair, explaining that her hope is that people will leave feeling educated and excited to spread the awareness.

“The Autism Society of the Chippewa Valley is all about creating opportunities for families in the community to come together and support one another, to connect to resources and to build awareness surrounding autism,” Olson said.

Monday’s fair featured a variety of informational booths, a play area for children, a raffle, caricature drawing, live music, guest speakers and, of course, lighting up the Phoenix Park bridge in blue.

The guest speakers were Kevin Klatt of the UW-Eau Claire Campus Autism Program and Kris Knutson, a UW-Eau Claire communications and journalism professor and mother of a child on the autism spectrum.

Klatt cited the three primary characteristics that define Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): a communication deficit, a lack of social skills and repetition. Klatt used these points to advocate for earlier, more intensive diagnoses and interventions, more treatments that are focused on functional skills and the need to prevent or reduce problematic behaviors.

Knutson followed by sharing the story of her son’s diagnosis of ASD, emphasizing the importance of communicating with other families, gaining the necessary knowledge as well as being patient and hopeful.

Lauri Malnory, another board member of the ASCV, also stressed the benefits that come with instances of face-to-face interactions between families at events like this.

“In our era of social media, the face-to-face connections have faded some,” Malnory said. “As a parent of an adult with a disability, my connections with people are best served in a face-to-face capacity; building those relationships, building connections, building networks.”

UW-Eau Claire sorority Alpha Xi Delta volunteered at the Blue Claire Fair, running a raffle and playing with the children.

Sophia Genco, a first-year biology student and member of Alpha Xi Delta, said society should show people with ASD that they are supported. Genco said “autism” is not a bad word, and interactive events like the Blue Claire Fair are ideal for promoting positive changes in perspectives.

Mary Inloes, a junior communication sciences and disorders student, is another one of Alpha Xi Delta’s volunteers. Inloes further supported Genco’s points by emphasizing the importance of community support and involvement.

“It’s important that people are aware of autism and fundraising for it, and how events like these can help people who are affected by autism,” Inloes said.

Leslie Peterson, a junior communication studies student and student coordinator of the Blue Claire Fair, said she has an older brother with ASD. As ASD awareness is a personal issue for Peterson, she said it is “super important” for the information shared at the Blue Claire Fair to be spread.

“With autism being so broad in the spectrum, there’s so many different aspects of autism and it’s really important to just educate,” Peterson said. “I’m hoping that a lot of people understand that autism is very prevalent in our society, and that there are quite a few diagnoses in our community too.”

Monday’s festivities came to a close at sundown, with the lighting of the Phoenix Park bridge. After a brief delay involving the coloring of the lights, spectators broke into cheers and children exclaimed in excitement as the bridge became bathed in blue.