GREENBURGH, N.Y. — With the push of a button, Greenburgh student Nick Lombardi has given autism a voice.
When he was just 9 years old, Lombardi thought of an idea that would help his brother, Joey, who suffers from autism. During a trip to the mall with Joey and his mother, Phyllis, Nick said he was distraught to see people judging his 7-year-old brother.
"They were very judgmental — staring at us with the look, 'Why can't you control your kid?'" said Nick, now 17 and a senior at Ardsley High School. "I knew that people are not naturally evil, not naturally mean. If I just gave him a voice that he didn't have, people would be more understanding."
It was after that trip to the mall that Nick coined the phrase that would raise $75,000 for Autism Speaks to be used for autism research and awareness. Nick and his mother had a button created reading, "I'm not misbehaving, I have autism. Please be understanding," but they didn't think much of it, other than it would help them during their public outings with Joey.
But as the Lombardis spread awareness about Nick's button idea, Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, offered Nick the chance to sell the buttons for $3 on its website. Nick said he jumped at the chance to be able to help other families in similar situations to his.
"I know the struggles that come with autism. The fact that I can help anybody, just a little bit, is amazing," he said.
Now, Nick still volunteers his time at autism support groups. He recently spoke to parents at an Armonk Special Education Parent Teacher Association meeting about what it's like to have a sibling with autism. He was also honored at a Greenburgh Town Board meeting Wednesday night for raising more than $75,000 to support autism awareness.
Phyllis Lombardi said she's blessed to have a son so understanding of Joey's condition. While dealing with autism can be tough, it's also brought the family closer together, she added.
"We don't take anything for granted," Phyllis said about her two sons and her husband, Nicholas. "We're the four happiest people anywhere, because we've learned not to sweat the small stuff and how important family is."