I think of Autism Rocks as my response to a life challenge parents like me face. To be honest, I didn’t get around to establishing the charity either quickly or easily.
It is tough when one of your own is born with a complex disorder that affects his intellectual and physical abilities, and broader health, with no real hope of a turnaround. It took me and my wife quite some time to come to grips with the reality that our third, and youngest, child will never be like us, or our two older children.
Such acceptance is key. Only then can healing begin. Only then can we learn to deal with our emotions, and with society.
Autism spectrum disorder, as it is now characterised, includes a wide range of conditions and wide range of disabilities that are permanent. In the UK, as well as the UAE, one child in 100 is born with some form of autism.
Science has yet to establish its cause. Heredity is a big suspect but scientists have not been able to identify specific genes that may be responsible. As a result, there is little to prevent children being born with the condition, which is typically diagnosed when a child is about two years of age. However, a lot of research is being done across the world and will, over time, help the autistic interact more easily with others, and ease their lives in ways we may not be able to see yet.
Many parents in the UAE – my home in recent years – struggle to recognise or accept the condition, and imagine that their children will simply grow out of it. Many do not know how to deal with society at large, and show needless embarrassment or shame.
In the case of our five-year-old son, it is unlikely he will ever be able to freely talk with us, surely one of the small pleasures in life. With the help of a speech therapist, he can now say ‘mom’ and ‘dad’, and call his siblings by their names. He has also learnt sign language to communicate some thoughts. Still, he has special needs and will likely require them all his life.
As our boy is growing up, it was heart-wrenching for us to deal with the fact that our older son and daughter would not socialise with him. But there is a gratifying thing, too. Our boy is happy regardless, and easy to please. I hope scientific advances will help him with more, maybe with reading on the Internet.
The other thing we routinely have to deal with is this: explain his condition to people who know nothing about autism. It takes a lot of skill, and patience, to manage situations at, say, a supermarket or airport.
In my desire to address autism, I initially donated to the UK charity Autism Research Trust. But later, I realized I had my own plans and wanted more control over the projects. So I registered Autism Rocks in the UK. The charity blends my love for music – in my younger days, I used to be a DJ and nightclub promoter – and my passion to raise autism awareness.
We raised funds from a concert featuring Prince at London’s Café de Paris. Recently, we staged shows by Tyga and Flo-Rida in the desert sands outside Dubai. Just last month we had a sell-out show with Ricky Martin in London. People just loved the music, a proven therapy for the autistic.
My goal for Autism Rocks is two-fold.
-Firstly, I want to build facilities in the UK and UAE where parents can bring their kids for occupational and music therapy, for example. I would also like to build a state-of-the-art studio where musicians can spend time with autistic kids.
-Secondly, I want to create and strengthen emotional bonds to help us all –affected children, parents and society at large – deal with autism. So, stand with me and let’s give it the best we can. Together, we will be able to make a difference in the lives of millions.