College Joins Light it Up Blue for Autism Awareness Month

lightitupblueindexAutism has become a focal point in the life of Mojdeh Mostafavi ’15.

Her brother, Payam, who is 18, is afflicted with a severe form of the neural development disorder, which is characterized by a range of symptoms, including difficulties with social interaction, communication, motor coordination, and other functions.

“My brother Payam is a Disney fanatic, and he’s very funny and smart,” says Mostafavi. “He’s a trickster, he’s my best friend, and he is the most loving person I know.”

At Smith, Mostafavi is fulfilling pre-med requirements and plans to become a specialist in the care and treatment of autism, with specific attention to innovative ways of combining the behavioral and medical aspects of the disorder.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Mostafavi has collaborated with the House Presidents Association to join “Light it Up Blue,” a global campaign coordinated by Autism Speaks, intended to start conversations about autism. Smith’s participation will be signified by a campaign to color outdoor lights on campus blue.

Mojdeh Mostafavi '15 with her brother, Payam.

Mojdeh Mostafavi ’15 with her brother, Payam.

Her devotion to Payam is one reason Mostafavi wants to gain a deep understanding of autism. But beyond her personal reasons, Mostafavi is also fascinated with the disorder on an intellectual level, she says. “It changes the way we think about the brain.”

Autism is reportedly on the rise in America, and now affects one in 88 children, a ten-fold increase in the past 40 years, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls, afflicting one out of every 54 American boys, CDC statistics show.

“It’s important to get people talking about how autism is incredibly present and not going away,” urges Mostafavi. “Where there’s a lack of awareness about autism, there are people who think autism is mental retardation, which it’s not—it’s a social and communication disorder—and there’s stigmatizing and fear.”

Mostafavi has experienced first-hand the way ignorance can hurt people with autism and their loved ones. When she was 12 and her brother was 10, a stranger in a restaurant shouted angrily at her family that her brother shouldn’t be out in public, that he should be institutionalized.

“I remember having this sharp realization then that my brother was not in a position to defend himself against this hate that stems from ignorance,” she recalls.

By raising awareness, Light it Up Blue can enact positive change on Smith’s campus, Mostafavi says. “We have the power to make or break it for people like my brother. A lot of times, people prefer to not talk to my brother, because that seems best, but actually the best thing they can do is just talk to him. This movement is about removing the stigma attached to autism, and recognizing how prevalent the disorder is.”

In addition to blue lights across campus, Light it Up Blue will include information tabling in the Campus Center this week. Those interested in learning more about autism and autism activism can email Mostafavi or visit Autism Speaks