Mumbai runs to raise awareness and change mindset on autism

The stretch along the sea from Taj Land’s End to Carter Road was bubbling with energy for the 10-km and 1-km runs

mumbai Updated: Apr 09, 2018 00:20 IST
Sukanya Datta
Sukanya Datta
Hindustan Times
Mumbai, India - April 8, 2018: Participants at Caus-a-thon organised by Khushi Pediatric Therapy Centre to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder at Bandra in Mumbai, India, on Sunday, April 8, 2018. (Photo by Satyabrata Tripathy/Hindustan Times)(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

An otherwise quiet Bandra Fort saw nearly 600 citizens turn Sunday morning into a carnival of camaraderie as they ran, danced and helped open up a conversation about autism.

Organised by Khushi Pediatric Therapy Centre, ‘Cause-a-thon’ is an annual event that seeks to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). “It costs roughly Rs1.5 lakh per child for a year of therapy. We try to raise money and this year we have got roughly Rs2 lakh to fund children whose parents can’t afford therapy,” said Dr Reena Singh, who founded Khushi as well as Cause-a-thon.

From little kids who came to “support their friends” to passionate runners who slowed down to cheer the spectrum individuals, the stretch along the sea, from Taj Land’s End to Carter Road was bubbling with energy for the 10-km and 1-km runs.

Even 75-year-old Venkateswar Narayan and his 65-year-old wife Revati were seen clapping to the beats of the music as runners warmed up to zumba. “We need these our days, we barely knew what autism was,” said Narayan.

The 10-km run was then flagged off by actor, VJ and author of the book From My Kitchen To Yours, Maria Goretti. “It’s mostly families that are dealing with individuals with autism that take the initiative to learn about it. Events like these give you a cause, they chalk out a path,” she said.

“This is my 107th marathon. This is my second time at Cause-a-thon and I feel that if I run, I motivate others around me. This is why I painted myself so that people look at me and a conversation about autism can start as we run” said Victor Kamble, who had painted himself blue, considered to be the colour of autism. Runners were seen cheering the spectrum individuals as they took to the streets. “It is so motivating for my daughter and us because she can barely walk on most days. But every year, she makes it a point to complete the 1-km run,” said Kamal Shah from Tardeo as beat drums to encourage everyone.

A lot of the participants however felt Mumbai has very little awareness as far as ASD is concerned. “Not more than 10% of the population knows about autism. People tend to think the child is misbehaving or is like any other special child, as autism can’t be seen,” said Swapnil Srivastav, father of Arth who has been receiving therapy for autism.

Rachel D’Abrio, 43, who has two daughters with ASD, agreed saying there is this stigma that we need to eliminate and accept them for who they are.

As they ran towards the finishing line, the runners were welcomed with medals made by autistic individuals. “Each medal, the snacks and the cookies have been made by them..the medals are multi-coloured signifying that two autistic individuals are not the same. This is their own way of saying thank you and reminding everyone that they contribute too,” Prerana Mandle, the project coordinator.

“It was more than a run. It broke down this barrier between us and them. We love the cookies!” chirped Siddhant Bora, an engineer who ran with his friends.

Mats, incense sticks, coasters, earrings, etc, made by some autistic individuals also seemed to be a hit with participants. “My daughter Divya, 24, now makes stationery under her own brand CreaDiv.Kom. In the face of all the stares and judgement, we are pushing our children to become self-reliant,” said Komal Gwalani from Khar.

“The ultimate question we all have to answer is what becomes of them after us?,” said Ruby Shome, mother of 18-year-old Arnav Shome, who helped bake the cookies with others at his training centre Together.

This is probably where the event has hit the right chord. “Every year we get people who come as runners and turn into buddies for the children. It’s the support that we get that keeps all of us going,” says Singh.

First Published: Apr 09, 2018 00:20 IST