When the bell rang to change classes at MacArthur High School in Levittown Wednesday afternoon, waves of students sporting blue shirts poured into the hallways.
The sight made Vincent Causeman, a social studies teacher and MacArthur’s dean of students, grateful that students and staff wore the color of autism awareness. It also made him hopeful for his own children’s future.
Causeman’s two kids -- Ryan, 7, and Hayley, 5 -- are on the autism spectrum.
“When my son was born, I was like most other people, I didn’t know what autism is,” said Causeman, 37, who is a 1994 MacArthur alumnus.
Autism impacts 1 in 68 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Causeman has set out to increase awareness in his corner of the world.
Four years ago, MacArthur started recognizing World Autism Awareness Day, which is on April 2, when Causeman and a colleague created T-shirts for staff to wear and encouraged their co-workers to discuss autism with their classes. They also recruited students to design decorations to hang in the hallways.
Since then, the program has expanded to all nine schools in the Levittown School District. This year, Causeman said they sold 1,700 blue T-shirts featuring an altered Superman logo with the words “Levittown Schools Support Autism Awareness.” Proceeds will go to the Nassau Suffolk Chapter of the Autism Society of America.
Senior John Lewis, 17, of Wantagh, was among the students and staff who sold shirts, created autism awareness displays inside and outside the high school, and filmed a video PSA that was played throughout the school buildings Wednesday morning. It can also be viewed on the district’s Web site.
Lewis was moved to support the cause after volunteering with the district’s Challenger basketball program, which caters to students with special needs.
“It’s just so eye-opening,” he said. “These are some great kids, great people.”
Causeman said less than 1 percent of MacArthur’s student population is on the autism spectrum. Senior Tommy Matousek, 18, of Levittown, is one of them, and he’s thrived in the district.
Although he once relied on aids, Matousek said he hasn’t needed them since his freshman year. He added that although he encountered some teasing from classmates when he was younger, he’s now embraced by his peers. They recently named him “Most Artistic” at this year’s Senior Awards, and his artwork is currently on display outside the high school’s main office.
Seeing his schoolmates clad in blue Wednesday, Matousek said, “It feels like they’re trying to make a difference.”
Causeman said he’s noticed a change in the way students at MacArthur treat their peers with autism. Awareness has led to more understanding.
“When my kids walk through the hallways in their schools, I just want them to be accepted for who they are.”