Thursday, October 29, 2009

TimeOut Dubai and Autism!

In this week`s TimeOut Dubai, the magazine will be doing a feature on my efforts to raise awareness for autism and the Marathon Des Sables. Thank you to Laura Chubb and the guys at TimeOut Dubai for their willingness to help me spread the word and raise the profile of autism here in the Gulf. Autism remains a massive behavioral disorder that needs all our attention to help and find a cure!

If you would like to get involved and please visit the first giving link on the left hand side and make a contribution. Please forward this to as many people as possible and encourage then to make a donation! With your help I have managed to raise $1 605.00 so far, on the way to the target of $10 000! Please get in touch with me if you would like to find out how you can donate to the Dubai Autism Center. Thank you for the support!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dubai Autism Center Information Sheet

Dubai Autism Centre (DAC) is a non-profit organization providing information, support, advice and training to professionals and parents of children with Autism. DAC was initiated after the issuance of a decree from H.H. Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 2001 as a resource / counseling center and was launched as a school in 2003. Today, 49 students are provided with a holistic intervention program that includes academics and various therapies – behavioral, speech, occupational, music and play as well as professional medical care.

In addition to the intervention program the center has an internationally acknowledged assessment and diagnosis unit. The Centre also works toward facilitating a better community understanding of autism by launching periodical, public and targeted, awareness campaigns. The major awareness campaign is launched annually on the 2nd of April and lasts for the full month. The campaign is supported by TV, radio and press advertising as well as talk shows and several crowd pulling and Interest generating activities.

About Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disorder. ASD usually affects the person’s verbal and non verbal communications as well as imaginative play and social skills. ASD transcends social, cultural and geographic boundaries. The incidence of Autism is increasing world wide with a 400% rise in the diagnosis of Autism in the last decade. One out of every 150 children is affected by ASD.

Dubai as per the rest of the world is seeing an increase in the number of people requesting services to support individuals affected by Autism. At the Dubai Autism Center alone, there is a 3 month waiting list for the assessment and diagnoses and 180 children on the waiting list for the school.

The Impact of Autism on Families

Having a child with Autism puts a lot of emotional, spiritual and financial burdens on the parents. Providing the ideal environment for children with Autism comes with a high cost of rehabilitation. In addition often one spouse has to sacrifice his/her job to stay home and take care of the child. Autism has also been known to put a strain on the rest of the family members and siblings.

Obstacles to Intervention

A major barrier to improve the health and wellbeing of children and families touched by Autism is the lack of knowledge and expertise. This coupled with the lack of public health programs limits access to care and early intervention. These challenges are further complicated by a shortage of experts and trained professionals.

Currently the center is operating at full capacity with 49 children enrolled in the center and another 180 waiting to be enrolled. There is also a three month waiting list for the assessment and diagnosis. The growing needs has made it a requirement to construct a purpose built center that can accommodate a greater number of children. The work on the new building was put on hold due to the economic crisis and the unavailability of financial aid.

DAC Strong Points

Specialized in Autism with a focused vision and mission.
The center has set clear short and long term strategies to cope with the growing demand and needs.
Provides holistic approach to intervention with each child having his/her own program.
Each child receives one to one care throughout the day except when group work is scheduled to improve the social and interaction skills.
Maintain high classroom standards by having an average of 4 children per classroom with a ratio of 1:2 OF special needs teacher to children.
Multi discipline and multicultural staff that share their expertise to improve the children’s capabilities.
Diversified therapies, activities and approaches to enhance each child’s learning experience.
Freedom to develop and learn from different disciplines and approaches to Autism intervention.
Strong management that adopts open door policies and horizontal structure for better communication and work environment.
The team is highly qualified and keeps abreast of the latest development through continuous training and self development. The team is highly respected in their fields locally and internationally with many awards to their name as an evidence of their achievements.
Team Building programs coupled with intensive staff training throughout the year
Systematic and well planned government outreach program to improve the conditions of the special needs sector and individuals with emphasis on Autism.
Creative in spreading awareness through awareness campaigns and PR activities
Strong outreach program involving all segments of the society.

Services Provided by the Center

- Individualized intervention programs
- Educational program
- Behavioral modification program
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Movement therapy
- Music therapy
- Art therapy
- Computer literacy
- Art classes
- Prevocational training
- Social integration (field trips & out door activities)
- Assessment and Diagnosis
- Utilize a variety of assessment tools
- The team comprises of 6 professionals (The team include professionals from the various disciplines)

- Guide parents of newly diagnosed children to seek professional intervention program (the center is unable to cope with the demand)
- Organize and run the Parents support Club
- Invite speakers and keep up to date with new approaches/treatments
- Conduct outreach programs to schools, Social clubs, companies as well as private and semi private government organizations
- Spreading Awareness
- Several awareness campaigns are conducted every year to educate the public and encourage -parents to seek professional help.
- Develop several out reach programs to improve the quality of life to children with Autism and their families
- Training and Information
- Several training programs are organized every year to help various professionals in the field of Autism
- Provide consistent training to the employees
- A library with more than 550 books are made available to parents and professionals
- Translating and publishing books

The Center Fact Sheet

Number of classes 11
Number of Students 49 (all nationalities and ethnic background)
Average number of Students / classroom 4
Ratio of Special educators to students 2:1
Number of Staff 60 (professionals and administration)
Students admission age 2 – 16 (currently the center has 20 years old)

N.B: All activities carried out by the center including printing are sponsored by individuals and or business institutes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Jason McElwain - Inspiration of note!

Another inspiring Autism story.......I found this video yesterday, just shows what can happen when we open the door for people with disabilities. You rock brother!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Running for Change

Yesterday I went to visit the Dubai Autism Center to meet the management and to have a look around the facility. I was a bit nervous going to the center as I am an emotional person and I know that the visit would touch me deeply when I see the kids.

Mariana came with me and when we arrived at the facility I was impressed by the size of the building. I would later learn that the center is in desperate need to expand as there is a need for a bigger facility and more therapist. When we arrived we waited in the reception for Hayula, and we saw the first autistic family, also waiting in the reception. The boy was very active running around and I could see the affect this could have on a parent. You have to be very patient and understanding to be able to be around kids with autism, and hats off to all families having to deal with the disorder.

There is a new statistic released in the US: When I first started out with my marathon preparations, 1 out of 150 kids in the US had autism. The figure is now 1 in every 93 children. I in the UK this figure is 1 in every 84 are some more shocking facts:

1. Autism is the fastest growing development disability in the world.
2. 67 children are diagnosed with autism daily.
3. More children will be diagnosed with autism than with Aids, Diabetes and Cancer combined.
4. Boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism than girls.
5. There is NO CURE FOR AUTISM...........

We walked around the center and first thing I noticed that in most cases there was 1 on 1 therapy being done. The therapist have a very tough task working with autistic children but they are doing a great great job! The earlier a child can receive therapy the better the chances are they would respond positively to the treatment and move in to the high functional categories.

We met a couple of the children and a boy named Omar was quizzing me on movies such as Robocop and Spacejam! I was amazed about the detailed descriptions he was giving us about his favorite movies! What a cool boy! We moved on to some of the lower functional kids and I could see how much time and attention is needed to help these kids develop.

The Dubai Autism center focuses on:

a) Diagnoses
b) Intervention
c) Family Support

They are always looking for people who are willing to help with financial and sponsorship support. Here is a link if you would like to get involved or alternatively I can be contacted.

I will be visiting the center in the very near future and assist them where I can. I am in the process of looking at various ways to raise funds for the center as well as spreading the word on autism and getting as many people involved as possible.

There is still a perception out there that autism is not a real disorder and that parents are to blame for bad parenting. This is not true. Autism is real. Autism affect people from all backgrounds, social status and nationality.

Part of my awareness program is also to raise funds for the Ernie Els Foundation and donations can be made online at:

You can help me make a difference.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ultra Marathon Man - Dean Karnazes


IT WAS HIS 30TH BIRTHDAY, and he'd started with beer and moved on to tequila shots at a bar near his home in San Francisco. Now, after midnight, an attractive young woman – not his wife – was hitting on him. This was not the life he'd imagined for himself. He was a corporate hack desperately running the rat race. The company had just bought him a new Lexus. He wanted to vomit. Karnazes resisted the urge and, instead, slipped out the bar's back door and walked the few blocks to his house. On the back porch, he found an old pair of sneakers. He stripped down to his T-shirt and underwear, laced up the shoes, and started running. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

He sobered up in Daly City, about 15 miles south. It was nearly four in the morning. The air was cool, slightly damp from the fog, and Karnazes was in a residential neighborhood, burping tequila, with no pants on. He felt ridiculous, but it brought a smile to his face. He hadn't had this much fun in a long time. So he decided to keep running.

When the sun came up, Karnazes was trotting south along Route 1, heading toward Santa Cruz. He had covered 30 miles. In the process, he'd had a blinding realization: There were untapped reservoirs within him. It was like a religious conversion. He had been born again as a long-distance runner. More than anything else now, he wanted to find out how far he could go. But at that exact moment, what he really needed to do was stop. He called his wife from a pay phone, and an hour later she found him in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. He passed out in the car on the way home.

That was August 1992. Over the next 14 years, Karnazes challenged almost every known endurance running limit. He covered 350 miles without sleeping. (It took more than three days.) He ran the first and only marathon to the South Pole (finishing second), and a few months ago, at age 44, he completed 50 marathons in 50 consecutive days, one in each of the 50 states. (The last one was in New York City. After that, he decided to run home to San Francisco.) Karnazes' transformation from a tequila-sodden party animal into an international symbol of human achievement is as educational as it is inspirational.


I have jinxed myself......Just a week ago I was telling a friend how well my knees have been keeping up with all the running and then the pain hit me!

I went out for a run a couple of days ago and felt a bit of pain above my left knee. Last year I had surgery done on the knee to repair ACL`s damaged due to rugby. I managed to run for 45 minutes but never felt comfortable. Then the day before I went out and as soon as I started running I had a sharp pain under the knee cap and tried to push through bit the pain got worse. I turned back to go home and I felt the knee feeling better and tried running again, and the same happened.

I will rest the knee for a couple of days and try again. If not better I`ll hit the pool and gym for a while and see if the rest will help the knee.