Photo courtesy of NYU Abu Dhabi

Looking Back on Autism Month at NYUAD

Amid the festivities of the Special Olympics, and growing student involvement, NYU Abu Dhabi celebrates Autism Month.

Apr 28, 2018

On April 1, NYU Abu Dhabi turned the campus dome blue in celebration of Autism Month and the worldwide initiative to promote autism awareness, inclusion and self-determination. This year is the fifth consecutive year that the university has worked to celebrate this month and the fourth year of the campus dome’s color transformation.
The Autism initiatives on campus are hosted by the Office of Community Outreach but are created and shaped by students and community partners. In spring 2014, Guillaume Sylvain, Class of 2017, and Jessica Obidowski, Class of 2014, brought forth the first Autism Awareness Evening to the old downtown campus.
The move to the current campus brought more opportunities and a new wave of student leaders. Hannah Taylor, Class of 2018, played a role in turning the campus dome blue in 2015, as well as organizing the first Autism Education Conference while an intern at OCO. The goal of the conference, now an annual event attended by over 200 members of the Abu Dhabi community, was to move past awareness and add educational value and support.
SNAP basketball and Other Initiatives
The Special Needs Adaptive Programs, which began as SNAP Football, is now a semesterly program providing basketball and swimming training and activities for autistic youth using the facilities here on campus, and has been a highlight for both student volunteers and participants.
As the UAE steps up as host country for the 2018 Special Olympics MENA games and 2019 Special Olympics World Games, NYUAD has hosted athletes and events. As the venue for track and field, weightlifting and swimming this past March, the university has become a hub of activity and is awaiting over 7,000 athletes from more than 170 countries invited to the 2019 Games. In anticipation of the MENA games, more than 300 NYUAD community members joined Walk Unified to show their support for the athletes and initiatives of greater inclusion within the UAE and worldwide.
Conversations about Autism at NYUAD
With the Special Olympics MENA Games and this year’s Autism Education Conference, students are raising important conversations related to representations of autism awareness. The Office of Community Outreach faced some criticism from some members of the student body who held differing perspectives regarding the blue lights. Some have taken to social media to express their concerns regarding the close association of the lights to an initiative that was started by Autism Speaks. The organization is regarded as being problematic for several reasons, one of which ties back to their advocacy to find solutions to “cure” autism. Aware of the controversy, the university affirms that it is not associated with the organization or their campaigns but the feedback highlighted the need for greater distancing and an improved rhetoric overall.
Regarding this issue, Taylor stated that for the past several years, NYUAD has been a leader in pushing towards acceptance and inclusion, and the blue lights serve as an important reminder to the student body and the bigger community about the need for this commitment.
If students are interested in learning more about the initiatives that the university has taken to address these issues, or if they simply want to know more about the OCO’s work or give feedback, they can contact
Cece Kim is Deputy News Editor and Caroline Sullivan is a contributing writer. Email them at
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