A procession of students climbed the bleachers in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School Complex’s gymnasium Tuesday and took their seats, each clutching a bottle of bubbles in their hands.
Pat Tweedle, an Atlantic City resident and regular volunteer at the school who organized bubble-blowing event in honor of autism awareness, waited anxiously while the children filtered in.
“I’ve been so pumped up all day,” said Tweedle, who was dressed in an autism awareness T-shirt with a colorful puzzle piece-themed scarf tied around her neck, another symbol for autism awareness that reflects the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum.
A 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 45 New Jersey 8-year-olds has Autism Spectrum Disorder, a level higher than the national average of 1 in 68.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that can cause significant social and behavioral challenges, ranging in a wide degree of variation in the way it affects individuals.
The study findings, which were based on health evaluations and educational records of 8-year-olds in 11 states, including New Jersey, were released in March. The estimates reflect a 30 percent increase in all U.S. 8-year-olds on the autism spectrum compared to the CDC’s previous 1 in 88 statistic from 2008.
Bubbles 4 Autism, a worldwide celebration of autism awareness through bubble blowing now in its eleven year, was started a decade ago by the FACES 4 Autism founder and Ventnor mom Isabelle Mosca, whose teenage son, Kyle, has autism. April is also National Autism Awareness Month.
On Tuesday, schools and organizations from as far away as India and Australia — as well as dozens of local groups in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties — brought awareness to autism by sending trillions of tiny translucent bubbles into the air.
“I learned that we’re all special,” said fourth-grader Nasya Peoples, of Atlantic City.
Autism can be compared to living inside of a bubble as it is often difficult for individuals affected by the disorder to express themselves and relate to their peer.
The idea behind the bubble-blowing concept is to burst those bubbles and bring acceptance and awareness to the disorder through education.
At the instruction of their Principal Jodi Burroughs, the students of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School began blowing the bubbles, which filled the space around them.
“We’re here because other people need to know what autism is all about,” Burroughs explained. “Some people don’t understand that not everybody thinks the way you think, they don’t have the abilities that you have. So today we raise the awareness of other people. It affects more children than you think.”
Many of the groups this year, including the students MLK school complex in Atlantic City, also formed another symbol of autism awareness, a human ribbon, which was captured through an aerial photo.
Lorraine Matthews, a classroom aide at Charles W. Sandman Consolidated School in Lower Township, which blew bubbles Tuesday, and the mother of a 13-year-old with autism, Jason, said the event “brings tears to her eyes.”
“It touches my heart just to know there so many people that care and come out to try to understand,” Matthews said.
Reflecting on her simple idea that has turned into a worldwide annual event, Mosca said, “I was just a mom who wanted someone to play with her kid, and it’s just so touching because it resonated with so many other parents, so many other teachers, and now it's just become a national day in so many different places.”
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