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« What's New In Smithtown Government? RAISES | Main | 40 Year Smithtown Supervisor Patrick R Vecchio Sept. 1930 - April 2019 »

Smithtown Goes Blue for Autism Awareness


By Maureen Rossi

Last Wednesday the Lanese Family of Kings Park and other local families who live with Autism gathered outside Smithtown Town Hall. They were surrounded by local officials and town employees to kick off the annual Light the Town Blue event. 

An exciting and affirming occasion for Smithtown families whose loved ones live with Autism; the inaugural Light the Town Blue event was back in 2015.  It was the brainchild of Kathleen Lanese.  She is a special education teacher who resides in Kings Park whose two sons, Brendan 21 and Kevin 18 live with Autism. She is on the Board of Directors of Autism Speaks (the Long Island Chapter).   Kathleen  has been on the front lines of the Autism Community for almost two decades.  She has received countless award for her tireless works with regard to Autism Awareness.

Her oldest son Brendan addressed the crowd outside Town Hall as the wind tried to take his speech off the podium.  However, without skipping a beat his younger brother Kevin stepped up to hold it in place so his beloved older brother could continue to read. 

“This display of lights is important my brother Kevin and me, because we both have Autism.  And so many other people here in Smithtown do too – currently 1 in 59 children have an autism diagnosis.  We are so happy and proud to be a part of this evening, and this display of support, acceptance and awareness for the Autism community,” said Brendan.

The twenty-one year old credits Supervisor Wehrheim and the Town Board for embracing the Autism Community by both lighting up the town blue and by committing to increase employment and housing opportunities for those living on the Spectrum and those with other Diversified Abilities.

“This is really important because people like my brother and I grew up here in Smithtown, and we want to be able work here, and live in our own neighborhood, just like everyone else,” Brendan continued.  

The passionate young man said most don’t understand Autism because of its complexity and the fact that it varies greatly from person to person. 

“It’s ok to ask questions – I know my mom doesn’t mind.  Just try to be patient and kind and understanding when you see someone who is different and maybe having a hard time. They’re doing the best they can,” he shared.  

He pleaded with the audience to avoid using words like “autistic” and “retarded” as insults or jokes; saying it is very hurtful to people who with disabilities, and their families.

 “I hope you will join the Town Hall, the bull, and the Parks and Highway Departments and light your homes blue this April.  It makes us feel good to know that even if you don’t know exactly how we feel, you’re trying to be accepting and supportive”, ended Brendan.

His proud parents Kathleen and Rick and his young brother Kevin applauded along with the crowd that was gathered.  


“I am a mother first and foremost and I could not have been prouder of my son Brendan – he did an amazing job.  I am proud of my boys every day, they are good boys,” said Kathleen.

Brendan attends Suffolk Community College and works at Spectrum Designs.   His brother Kevin attends Kings Park High School and also works at Spectrum in a different capacity; as part of his job training program.   Spectrum Designs is a Nassau County based single agency model company that makes affordable apparel.  .  Seventy-five percent of their Employees are on the Autism Spectrum. Staff members at Spectrum are paid at least minimum wage, and work between 5 and 40 hours per week  A model for the tri-state area, they turn trainees into taxpayers and promote independence through the world of work.   Self-sustaining through sales, all Spectrum fundraising and donations go straight to advancement and expansion.

Everyone in the crowd affected by Autism was asked to join Brendan and his family on stage to help with the official countdown.  5, 4 3 2 1 - Kevin flipped the switch and Smithtown went BLUE!   

Residents can see Town Hall, the town mascot Whisper the Bull and the Highway Department aglow with blue lights for the entire month of April.  Their parameters are also punctuated with puzzle pieces symbolizing Autism Awareness.

 Residents can pick up free blue light bulbs at the Town Council Office.


  • 1 in 59 individuals are born with Autism (CDC)
  • 70-90% are un- or underemployed (United Nations data)
  • 500,000 will become working age adults in next decade
  • Societal cost for each unemployed individual estimated at $2,000,000 over their lifetime

To start customizing your own apparel from Spectrum Designs for either a team, company, or family picnic please www.spectrumdesigns.org


Maureen Ledden Rossi is the mother of two married Millennials – a journalist, columnist  and opinion writer for twenty-five years who resides in Kings Park, New York.



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