March 28, 2019 —It’s not a defect, it’s diversity. That’s the point CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) History major Angeles Castillo, 20, plans to make as she speaks at the Eighth Annual “Light It Up Blue” Autism Awareness event from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 2.

Castillo, who learned she was on the autism spectrum when she was in middle school, is one of the speakers at the event, which will be held in front of the John Spoor Broome Library on campus. When it comes to autism, the Oxnard native hopes people can move beyond awareness to acceptance.

“I guess people used to see autism as something that needs to be cured and some horrible calamity that has befallen the kids,” said Castillo. “It’s like, you know how some people wear glasses and other people don’t and everybody’s just fine with that? That’s what it should be like for people who have different abilities.”

The evening will begin with informational booths featuring community resources on autism. At 7 p.m., two student speakers and faculty representatives will take the podium. Just before 8 p.m., participants will be asked to hold up their blue tea lights as the Broome Library and Bell Tower are lit up blue in honor of United Nations World Autism Awareness Day.

The goal around the world on April 2 is to shine a blue light on communities throughout the world to raise awareness and take action for autism. Iconic landmarks worldwide will be lit in blue, including Niagara Falls in Canada; New York’s Empire State Building; Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Osaka Castle in Japan; Nelson Mandela Bridge in South Africa; and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Organizer Valeri Cirino-Paez, CSUCI Associate Director of Disability Accommodations & Support Services, makes it a point to have a student speaker with autism speak every year because she believes it’s important to hear from those who live with autism.

“We’re modeling the way with events like this,” Cirino-Paez said. “We do have to go beyond awareness and move into action, with employment for example. Each conversation, each action, each event contributes to a cultural shift.”

Castillo, who plans to become a history teacher, plans to discuss her struggles and her successes, good grades being one of them, and tackle stereotypes.

“One stereotype is that autism is a boys only thing,” she said. “Girls are on the spectrum, too and they get misdiagnosed all the time. For a while in middle school, I thought I was crazy or bipolar. I just felt like I didn’t belong. I was lonely and bullied relentlessly.”

Professor of Education and Political Science Tiina Itkonen, Ph.D., will speak about how educators can better serve students with autism. In 2018, the Autism Society of Ventura County named Itkonen the Educator of the Year (Secondary) award for her work with individuals with disabilities and education throughout her career. She was nominated by one of her students here at CSUCI, Samuel Capozzi, a non-speaking honors society student living with autism, who used his keyboard to communicate.

“As educators, to teach individuals with autism, we need to understand that there are multiple learning styles and, in many ways, we are on the cutting edge of addressing this in terms of our resources at CSUCI,” Itkonen said. “Students with autism have invisible disabilities. We need to continue to pursue different ways to teach students with all of these diverse learning styles.”

Itkonen stressed that the first step is turning away from stereotypes.

Quoting Capozzi, Itkonen said: “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” she said.

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