JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — April is Autism Awareness Month, which gives those on the spectrum and their families a chance to celebrate their differences.

In honor of the month, Jersey City is flying a blue autism awareness flag high over city hall, CBS2’s Kevin Rincon reported Thursday.

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For Sherry Singh, founder of the Whole Spectrum Foundation, and her family, it’s a reminder of their own journey – which hasn’t been easy.

Singh has a 34-year-old son with autism.

“We saw a big difference in his behavior. Aggressiveness. Him becoming very aggressive to his own self, hurting himself more,” Singh said.

The isolation hurt. The pandemic forced school closures. Parks and pools were locked up. Those are places that often offer some sort of relief.

“Little things like that make a huge impact on these families and, the resources weren’t there,” said Mayor Steven Fulop.

Paterson, New Jersey held a similar flag ceremony to mark autism awareness.

Felisa Van Liew works year-round to make a difference.

“The statistics say one in 45. We say one of a kind, because they’re children. They may be unique, they may have special idiosyncrasies. But they’re still children and we need to treat them that way,” said Van Liew, a school principal in Paterson.

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With that in mind, Elizabeth Marcketta, whose 13-year-old son Tommy has autism, said it should be less about awareness and more about acceptance.

“We’re aware of things that are dangerous, or scary, or harmful. And autism is none of those things. It makes Tommy pretty awesome, actually,” Marcketta said.

Her son was only recently diagnosed by the staff at Children’s Specialized Hospital.

“There are things about me that make parts of me better. But there are also things that are harder for me, like social skills,” said Tommy Marcketta.

But he too wants people to be accepting. It’s the same message from families everywhere.

“Don’t look at them differently. Look at them as someone who’s special in their own way,” said Ray Singh.

“Just by smiling at someone makes a difference in their life,” Sherry Singh said.

The latest CDC reporting on autism found 1 in 54 children are on the spectrum nationally. The rate in New Jersey was 1 in 32, the highest in the country.

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CBS2’s Kevin Rincon contributed to this report.

CBSNewYork Team