04/02/2017 17:05 EDT | Updated 04/03/2018 01:12 EDT

Light It Up Blue event celebrates Autism Awareness Day in Regina

Jeanelle Mandes became an autism advocate after her daughter was diagnosed with it in 2012.  

Since then, Mandes has hosted the Light It Up Blue Autism Awareness event in Regina to bring families and communities together to share stories of hope and overcoming obstacles.

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. The 2017 event marked the fifth time the day was celebrated in Regina.

Mandes' daughter was diagnosed at the age of three. Mandes said it is important to advocate for her daughter because she is non-verbal. But it wasn't just her daughter that motivated Mandes to become an autism advocate.

'It touches my heart. It kind of gives me hope.'- Twyla McNab

A supportive classmate, who also has autism, also inspired Mandes to become a voice for those with autism.

"He reassured me that my daughter still has a bright future ahead of her, and not to think of the worst just because she has autism," said Mandes.

"He gave me that boost of hope and that inspiration. Since then, I've been doing as much as I can in the autism community."

Events like Light It Up Blue allow families to create support systems with one another. Mandes said these supports and connections are necessary for handling the challenges of parenting a child with autism.

Twyla McNab attended the event for the first time and shared her story with the audience. Her son, Dru, has autism. She said she is happy to be able to connect with other families for that support and reassurance.

"It touches my heart. It kind of gives me hope," said McNab.

"We're still in that beginning phase with Dru. I don't know the future. I don't know if he's going to be able to speak. I don't know if he's going to be able to live independently."

McNab is from George Gordon First Nation, and she said she hopes the event will also help bring awareness to the lack of services for children with autism in rural and First Nations communities.

According to Autism Speaks Canada, Autism Spectrum Disorder affects one in 68 children. That equals about 14,000 people in Saskatchewan.