Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that develops in the first three years of a child’s life, and manifests itself in primarily three areas – communication, social exchanges, and imagination. Contrary to popular belief, there is no ‘typical’ behavior associated with this condition. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that autistic individuals display a variety of behaviors in differing intensities.
Prevalence figures of autism in India are estimated to be 18 million, and though there is increasing awareness of the condition among the general population and medical professionals, the road ahead is still long and arduous. In the majority of cases, the condition is misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder or mental retardation. Parents also face barriers when it comes to finding schools that can meet the unique needs of kids with autism. Poor understanding of autism, combined with the taboo associated with mental conditions in India, add to the social stigma faced by autistic individuals and their families.
To combat stigma and encourage fundraising towards research, April is celebrated as the Autism Awareness month across the globe. On the 26th of April, Mumbai’s running community took collective strides towards the cause of autism awareness by coming together for a 10K run. The run was not in the spirit of racing, but an endeavor to bring sensitivity, understanding and empathy to the conversation around autism. The triumphant run helped shine a spotlight on the facts around autism, and dispel the darkness of the myths surrounding the condition.
Sayuri’s AweTism Run was first organized in 2014 by well-known Mumbai runner and multiple podium finisher, Sayuri Dalvi, as a spontaneous event to commemorate the month of awareness. The enthusiastic response from the running community encouraged Sayuri to mobilize the event on a bigger scale this year. Support came pouring from fellow runners who contributed in various ways to put together the pieces of the jigsaw – much like the official symbol of autism awareness. Autism awareness is a cause close to Sayuri’s heart, as her son Vihaan is autistic. Sayuri has been vocal about her mission to highlight the issues faced by autistic individuals in India, and has also lent support to organizations associated with autism. In the past, Sayuri has fundraised and run for the Khushi Pediatric Centre, an NGO dedicated to empowering individuals with developmental challenges.
It was the stuff that perfect Sundays are made of – a fun 10K run on the Eastern Express Highway, a delicious breakfast – and of course, plenty of memorable pictures and smiles. The early start and hydration support by RRUNN helped runners power through the infamous Mumbai conditions. With the smiling volunteers and the joyous momentum of the runners, the entire run felt like one happy Mexican wave that could not be stopped.
The Unived Sports had a blast soaking in the atmosphere of this event, and witnessing the spirit of the running community at its best. Sayuri’s AweTism Run was a wonderful reminder that despite the fierce competition at races, the city’s running community is still held together by the spirit of care and camaraderie. It was heartening to see more than 300 runners rally together to become personal advocates of autism awareness.
If the 2015 edition is anything to go by, looks like Sayuri’s AweTism Run will see a fantastic response every year, and will continue to champion the foundation of empathy and understanding that it was built on.
To learn more autism and to contribute, visit – National Centre for Autism India