An artist's impression of how the Opera House would look under blue light.
The Empire State Building. The Pyramids. Christ the Redeemer. The Water Cube. Trafalgar Square.
Of all of the stunning buildings and landmarks in the great cities of the world, the Sydney Opera House stands as tall as the rest. But it won't shine quite as brightly thanks to NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's failure to support World Autism Awareness Day.
On April 2, hundreds of buildings around the world will be lit up blue to mark the United Nations-sanctioned Autism Awareness day. The Opera House management itself is happy to be involved, but to project blue onto it properly requires $40,000 with which the state government will not part. Last year the Opera House's own environmentally friendly lighting was not at all apparent against the evening sky and O'Farrell's office this morning said it would again waive the fee for this level of lighting only. Trouble is, it does not work.
In 2011 the proper projection was funded by the Keneally government.
The Light it up Blue campaign was initiated by Autism Speaks in the US in 2010 to help overcome community ignorance about autism. One in 88 American children is diagnosed with autism. Estimates in Australia put our rate of diagnosis at 1 in 100. All of those tedious stories you read about children having meltdowns in cafes/food courts/shopping centres? Chances are the child had autism.
Autism is a developmental disorder mostly characterised by a person's inability to interact or communicate socially. Some people with autism never speak. Many do.
The Light it up Blue campaign in Sydney is headed by Autism Awareness Australia, whose chief executive, Nicole Rogerson, has worked miracles over the past decade, helping convince the federal government to partly fund early intervention for children with autism. Since 2008, 19,000 Australian children have been helped by $12,000 in funding.
The autism community again had a win in convincing the federal government to include early intervention in the National Disability Insurance Scheme legislation, which many carers hope will cover the additional $50,000 that it costs to give autistic children the 20 hours a week of therapy they need for two years. That much? Yes. It's what the federal government accepts as world's best practice.
When people are asked to pay more tax – dressed in whatever spin the government uses – to cover NDIS, this is why: untreated, autism can leave a child unable to cope in a normal environment such as the classroom or the cafe. Your child's classroom. Your cafe.
True, some children with more severe autism cannot cope with those situations no matter how much early intervention they get. They go to special schools and with any luck their parents get some respite.
But for the larger proportion of children who become higher functioning as a result of early intervention, the cost to the state and the commonwealth is reduced over their lifetimes as they need less support. That gives them a better chance of growing up into taxpayers.
It's an investment at the front end that saves in the long run. It's an investment that this much-maligned federal government has had the courage to make – a decision for the future rather than a decision to win the next election.
Autism Awareness produced a short video last year to be shown in schools to help neurotypical children understand their peers with autism. Above all, it teaches awareness. Awareness teaches other children understanding, compassion and patience. It teaches them not to bully a child because they are different. It teaches them to help their struggling peers. It teaches leadership. All fairly handy things to have in this life.
A Townsville mother of a child with autism wears a T-shirt emblazoned "Autistic kids rock" when she is out with her three-year-old son. It's a better alternative than explaining to people why they shouldn't call the police when her son is having a loud meltdown in a shopping mall because a stranger once did just that. Surely there are better ways to educate the general community.
The Opera House was lit up red recently to celebrate Chinese New Year – a great tribute to Sydney's racial and cultural diversity.
Now light it up blue, Mr O'Farrell. Properly.
Kathryn Wicks is the Herald's Community Editor and co-author of The Australian Autism Handbook, second edition (April 1).