Garbage Trucks Go Blue for Autism

Deputy Chief Anthony Ardolino and his son Anthony Luca celebrate the Department of Sanitation's first World Autism Day. (Cara McGoogan/NY City Lens)

Deputy Chief Anthony Ardolino and his son Anthony Luca celebrate the Department of Sanitation’s first World Autism Day. (Cara McGoogan/NY City Lens)

The Department of Sanitation of New York lit their vehicles blue in honor of World Autism Day on Thursday. Almost 2,500 New York City garbage vehicles will display blue Autism Speaks posters for the month of April to raise awareness of the disease that affects one in 68 children in the U.S.

The poster unveiling Thursday morning came alongside a worldwide movement to turn on blue lights to help make people aware of autism. This will include lights on the Empire State Building and Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Tower, one of China’s tallest buildings. Glamorous landmarks and garbage trucks might not seem like obvious choices for an autism awareness campaign. But the two speak to more people than you can imagine.

New York City’s garbage trucks join this initiative thanks to one Bureau of Cleaning and Collection employee’s dedication. Deputy Chief Anthony Ardolino’s son was diagnosed with autism six years ago—and for the last two years he has pushed for the Department of Sanitation to partner with Autism Speaks. “My son is non-verbal,” said Ardolino. “I know that if he understood, he would be thanking me everyday. It’s a great accomplishment.” He said Thursday’s feat shows him his employer understands that he has two full time jobs – at work and home.

Autism Speaks, an advocacy group, put World Autism Day on the calendar eight years ago.

“It’s an extraordinary firestorm that’s going across the world,” said Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. She and her husband Bob Wright founded the organization after their grandson Christian, now 13, was diagnosed with autism. “Autism is on your doorstep,” Wright told NY City Lens.

Mattias, Christian’s 11-year-old brother was at the event. “Thank you all for coming here for Autism Speaks and supporting families that have autism in them,” Mattias told the crowd.

After raising over $40,000 for Autism Speaks in 2014, the Department of Sanitation are raising the stakes this year. “The Department of Sanitation, which is usually very green, will be decked in blue,” said Department Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Ardolino is pleased that the message will now reach all New Yorkers, regardless of age, race or borough. Mostly, he hopes it will touch other families struggling like his own. “It’s really all about awareness,” Ardolino said. “Just to know that there are people with them and they’re not alone.”