By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ridge Leoni, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Public Affairs
PORTSMOUTH, Va, (NNS) -- Sailors aboard Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (IKE) participated in Autism Awareness Day, April 1.
The event is intended to acknowledge autism as a growing public health crisis and to inform those who simply may not know what the disorder is.
"For the first of April there will be blue lights illuminated on various iconic structures all over the U.S.; such as the White House and the Empire State Building in New York City to support autism awareness, and I thought to myself 'how about [have] the IKE show support by lighting up the island on the flight deck?'" said Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Henry Cooper, the founder of IKE's Autism Support Group. "I feel that it will make a huge statement and spark a lot of conversation when people see an aircraft carrier is also taking part in Autism Awareness Day.
"There are a lot of Sailors in the IKE family that have children who are diagnosed with autism and overall the majority of the IKE family at least indirectly knows someone diagnosed with the disorder," said Cooper. "IKE's participation with Autism Awareness Day will ultimately bring us closer and may promote early detection of the disorder."
Along with lighting the "69" on the carrier's island, Cooper and other members of IKE's Autism Support Group passed out blue ribbons that are recognized as a part of Autism Awareness Day. The ribbons were worn under the crew's "I Like IKE" pins on their uniforms.
"We have ordered blue ribbons for those who would like to wear it," said Cooper. "The blue ribbon is another way to promote awareness. I remember when the NFL was wearing pink gloves and cleats during the game to promote breast cancer awareness; that type of advertisement is very effective and raises that question 'what's the ribbon for?'"
Autism is a disorder of neural development characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. These signs all begin before a child is three years old. Autism affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses connect and organize; how this occurs is not well understood.
Autism affects one out of every 117 children in the
, and IKE's crew represents approximately the same rate of children diagnosed with autism. Cooper encouraged everyone to learn as much as they can about the disorder and welcomes anyone who has questions about autism. U.S.
"As a parent of two kids diagnosed with autism, I feel that we should be able to lean on one another that also may have kids with autism," said Cooper.