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Pelham Student Creates Song for Autism Awareness

PELHAM, N.Y. – Twelve-year-old Owen Saunders, a seventh-grader at Pelham Middle School, wrote a song last year for Autism Awareness Day, and it now has become the anthem for Autism Speaks, which is an advocacy organization for the spectrum of disorders that affect one in 88 people, according to government statistics.

“He composed a great tune,” said his mother, Sue Cirillo. “It has since become quite a hit for Autism Speaks. Owen's dad and I are so proud of him. It's great to have a child who is so passionate about music. To be given the opportunity to use his talent to help others was such a great twist of fate.”

Saunders composed “Light It Up Blue” because he had seen “how badly this disease can affect people, and knew that this was a great opportunity to help raise awareness towards it.”

Bill Shea, the national creative director at Autism Speaks, has been a longtime friend and colleague of Cirillo's. He had heard a song that Owen had written and called Cirillo to ask her if he would write “a piece for World Autism Awareness Day.” She accepted “the challenge for Owen.” After his mother explained the assignment to him, he had it written just a few days later.

The vocal portion of the song was sung by the Prospect Hill fifth-grade music class, led by music teacher Eric Katz. Harriet Palmer, who was then 12 years old and had just moved to Pelham from Bath, England, was picked to sing the lead vocal.

“It was one of those rare projects where everything fit together seamlessly,” Cirillo said. She also spoke of the connection between the song and how “the kids involved had a direct connection to several autistic children.”

“There is a class at Prospect Hill School, called the ACE class, which has a couple of children in it that have autism,” she said. “The music class that Mr. Katz teaches includes those kids. The school is wonderful, creating a compassionate environment for all the children to work together. Some of the older kids, including Owen, have tutored, helped and played with some of the younger kids in the ACE class. One of the children who sang as part of our chorus has autism.”

“Light It Up Blue” has been translated into French and “we are in the process of translating it into Spanish for South America,” Cirillo said. “The astronauts on the space station are even planning to play it in outer space on April 1st this year. On Saturday, we are invited to the celebration on the USS Intrepid.”

Saunders is glad to see that his song has really caught on, including more than 61,000 hits on YouTube.

“It’s great to bring attention to such an important cause,” he said. “I am surprised how it is still getting more and more attention after a year.”

Both Saunders and his mother agreed when it came to their favorite lyrics in the two-minute song.

“I guess my favorite part of the lyric is 'together we can make the whole world blue' because it really inspires a sense of community,” Cirillo said. “I felt that all the kids that participated in this project got a firsthand experience about what it means to help others.”

Saunders was hoping that his song inspires people to come together and work to find a cure.

“Together we can make the the whole world blue, because it implies that if everyone works together it could help us take one step closer to finding a cure,” he said.

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