West Students, Staff Highlight Hair Blue for Autism Awareness
Fundraiser at Waukesha West High School benefits Good Friend, Inc.
Waukesha West High School took their school color to a new level today as they worked to spread autism awareness. Salon Brillaré owner, Janet D’Amato, and her voluntary staff encouraged students and faculty to put blue highlights in their hair during the lunch periods to raise money for Good Friend, Inc.
Good Friend, Inc. is a public charity whose mission is not only to raise autism awareness, but also to teach acceptance of differences.
D’Amato’s daughter is a current West student. Her son, a West graduate, has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism.
D’Amato spoke to a marketing class about her son’s disorder and said, “He looks like every one of you.”
“In school he blended in until maybe about ninth grade and then his differences really started to show,” she said. “He was bullied, he was targeted, and as a parent that broke my heart.”
Junior Dakota Caria was a part of the marketing class who welcomed D’Amato. Like D’Amato’s son, he also has Asperger’s Syndrome.
“It’s good that they are spreading that around because personally, I didn’t even know about it until I was told that I have it,” Dakota said.
He recognized the blue feathers, tinsel and extensions that students are wearing around campus.
“It shows that the people actually care and want to help toward the cause,” Dakota said.
Andrea Mader is a friend of D’Amato’s daughter and got the blue streak. “It’s really important to support her and let her and her family know that I stand behind them and I am there for them if they ever need something,” Andrea said.
Proceeds go to Good Friend, Inc which retreats back to the schools and services they can provide to help kids with autism. Cofounder Chelsea Budde’s daughter goes to Heyer Elementary in Waukesha, and her son goes to Horning Middle School. Both kids have autism. She said blue is becoming the autism awareness color. Like Mader and D’Amato, Budde proudly wears her blue.
“You will stand out, but kids with autism stand out,” she said. “They don’t blend. So the whole point is stand out and stand up for autism.”
Autism Speaks is the largest national advocacy and research organization in the U.S. for autism and started a campaign called Light it up Blue. The campaign had public buildings change their outdoor lighting to blue, which spread neighborhood lights as well. Salon Brillaré and Good Friend, Inc are taking part in the campaign with its local Highlight it up Blue initiative.
“It’s such a youth-friendly thing to do,” Budde said. “I hope that people get a little flavor of what it’s like to be looked at differently with the blue hair.”
Good Friend, Inc. has been promoting autism awareness since it started in 2007. This year, they started the blue hair extensions on March 22. They have dedicated the whole month to autism and will wrap it up with their Hoa Aloha Autism Awareness Bowling Event on Sunday in New Berlin.
“Everybody is the same no matter what disability they have, and it’s important to treat each other the same and be friends with everyone, not just seclude yourself into your own little group,” Mader said.
“Even if the other kids here don’t end up mingling with the kids that have special education needs, I hope they are willing to understand that this isn’t just about a cool, fun blue streak in your hair, but it’s really about the one in 88 kids now, who have autism,” Budde said.