By Berit Ollestad
What does the Morristown Green have in common with the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building and the Sydney Opera House?
If a Morristown man gets his way, the historic town square will take a cue from those iconic places and turn blue in April.
A blue Green?
The idea is to promote autism awareness with blue lights, said Michael Hand.
“The Morristown Green is an iconic place in Morristown and throughout the state. What a statement it would make to follow suit with all of the other known landmarks throughout the world,” said Hand, whose son Brady, age 6, was diagnosed with autism three years ago.
The United Nations has designated April 2, 2014, as Worldwide Autism Awareness Day. Many landmarks are participating in a Light It Up Blue campaign to kick off Autism Awareness Month.
Autism refers to a series of complex disorders of brain development that can cause a wide range of intellectual and physical disabilities. More than two million Americans, and tens of millions of individuals globally, are affected. For reasons not fully understood, autism appears to be on the rise in the U.S.
At the suggestion of Morristown Councilman Stefan Armington, Hand came to last Tuesday’s council meeting to seek the town’s advice and support for draping blue lights on the Green.
“This is my first time coming to a council meeting and it wasn’t really until earlier in the afternoon that I really even knew what it was I was asking for. I just knew that I needed to be here tonight on behalf of my son,” said Hand, 42, whose shirt was emblazoned: Brady’s Battalion, Battling to Find the Missing Pieces.
FELT LIKE ‘DEATH SENTENCE’
Experts say autism is as challenging for caregivers as for those suffering with the condition.
“At first my wife and I thought it was great that Brady could play by himself and we didn’t think much of it,” recounted Hand, who is a third-grade teacher in Randolph. “Then my older sister suggested that we have Brady tested.
“Initially we were relieved when we overheard the experts say that they didn’t think Brady fell within the autism spectrum. But unfortunately, it was short-lived because we wanted a second opinion. Brady was just shy of his third birthday and we received the diagnosis on my wife’s birthday.
“We didn’t know much about autism and initially we felt like it was some sort of death sentence. But we educated ourselves and learned as much as we could. It’s our hope that through our mission as a family we can spread awareness about autism, so the world will become a more welcoming and accepting place for our son.”
Council members volunteered to spread the word to the Morris School District, and they advised Hand to contact the Trustees of the Green, who oversee the private park.
Mayor Tim Dougherty offered to explore ways the town can raise awareness about how residents are affected by autism.
People can help by buying a blue light at their local home supply store and displaying it for the month of April, Hand said.
The third annual Greater Morris Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser is scheduled for Oct. 25, 2014, at the Central Park of Morris County in Morris Plains, on the former grounds of Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital.