Nova Scotia

Opening up about autism and turning a town blue

Harrison Czapalay, 23, has autism and for the second year in a row will be hosting a charity barbecue in Wolfville, N.S. Many in town will also hang blue lights this weekend to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

'Growing up with autism wasn’t easy for me in the beginning,' says charity BBQ organizer Harrison Czapalay

Harrison Czapalay is running a barbecue to raise money for the Annapolis Valley chapter of Autism Nova Scotia and the Acadia University S.M.I.L.E. program. (Facebook)

Harrison Czapalay has autism and he's more than willing to share that fact with everyone he meets.

"Growing up with autism wasn't easy for me in the beginning, but now that I'm getting older I'm able to cope with it a lot more," said Czapalay. 

"It's up to the person who has autism, or any disability for that matter, if they want to be open about it."

This weekend is one of the biggest times of the year for the affable 23 year old. Sunday marks World Autism Awareness Day and today, for the second straight year, he'll be hosting a charity barbecue at Clock Park in Wolfville, N.S.

Many businesses in town have put their support behind the event and all proceeds raised will go to the Annapolis Valley chapter of Autism Nova Scotia and the Acadia University SMILE (sensory motor instructional leadership experience) program.

Dozens of people came out for World Autism Awareness Day in Wolfville last year. (Facebook)

The SMILE program teams up people with autism with students at the university. Czapalay joined the program when he was a pre-schooler, not long after he was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.

"They develop a bond and through that they make friendships that last a lifetime," said Roxanne Seaman, a kinesiology professor at Acadia and the director of the program.

She's known Czapalay since he joined SMILE nearly 20 years ago. He's still involved in the adult program.

"Last week he delivered a very well-written and prepared speech and it brought tears to my eyes, just thinking back to when he was just a little guy trying to transition from one place to the next."

Blue lights

Czapalay is well-known around Wolfville because he almost always wears one of his many cowboy hats. He also has a lot of blue clothes in his closet. That's because blue is the colour that marks World Autism Awareness Day.

Many people in Wolfville have put up blue lights on their homes for this weekend. University Hall and Alumni Hall at Acadia will also be lit with blue lights.

People going to the barbecue are encouraged to wear blue clothing. The get-together runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

"I think it's going to be a whole lot better this year because there have been a lot of people looking to get blue lights," said Czapalay. "People have been asking how they can help with the barbecue, too. It's been really great that way."


Paul Palmeter is an award-winning video journalist born and raised in the Annapolis Valley. He has covered news and sports stories across the province for 30 years.