KINGSTON – Students released a bevy of blue balloons into the sky outside The Graham Academy lower school Tuesday to send a symbolic message.

Blue is the color that represents autism awareness, and April is World Autism Awareness Month. And the academy teachers and officials want everyone in the community to know why that’s significant.

“They need a better tolerance of people who live with disabilities every day,” said Carol McGrane, program director at The Graham Academy. “Recognizing people who have disabilities and respecting those disabilities is important in our kids’ lives.”

“They’re going to come across (people with autism) in the public, you know? They’re gonna see them in supermarkets and in the malls and, when they’re older, entering adolescence and adulthood, they could be sharing the workplace with them as well,” added Jim Prisk, operations manager at the academy.

It’s important for the public to know “that there are schools like us that are working on educating these students in many different ways,” Prisk said.

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

While autism is considered a lifelong disorder, the degree of impairment in functioning varies between individuals with autism.

This year marks the academy’s third annual Light It Up Blue campaign, which focuses on increasing community awareness and education about the disorder, and several events and initiatives are planned.

Teachers and staff are asking the entire community to show their support all month long for their students by lighting up their homes and businesses in blue and hanging blue ribbons throughout the cities of Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, and Luzerne.

The public is also encouraged to offer support through T-shirt and candle sales.

T-shirts are blue with the phrase, “The world needs all kinds of minds,” with puzzle piece imagery on the front and “Light It Up Blue” on the back. The design was made by William Norton of Wyoming, a 12th grade student at The Graham Academy upper school in Luzerne.

T-shirt sale proceeds will be donated to Challenger Basketball, a sports program designed for children with special needs who live with physical or mental challenges. T-shirts cost $20.

New this year is a Mia Bella Candle sale. Candles are lavender-chamomile scented and cost $22 each. Packaging includes a custom label featuring Norton’s puzzle piece imagery and theme. Profits from this sale will go to the Wilkes-Barre All-Inclusive Playground.

A program in which academy students take honorary roles in Wilkes-Barre City government, including police and fire chiefs, mayor and council members, is planned for later this month.