It's World Autism Awareness Day today, and over 300 iconic landmarks around the world will be bathed in blue light, to show support for 'Light It Up Blue', a worldwide initiative to help raise awareness about autism. While Rashtrapati Bhavan in the Capital city will change colour to show its true blue support for the campaign, the city's civic body has plunged the hopes of many in darkness, by refusing to follow suit.
Feeling blue: A group of students conducted a march bearing placards to spread awareness about World Autism Awareness Day. Residents in the city have lit up their homes in blue to observe the day
While awareness about autism is deplorably poor in the nation and the city, World Autism Awareness Day presents a perfect opportunity for families with autistic members to sensitise others about the many, often subtle indications of autism.
Keeping this in mind, Forum for Autism, a support group comprising parents of autistic children from Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, penned a letter on March 20 to the BMC officials, requesting them to light up iconic landmarks � the Gateway of India or the BMC headquarters -- in blue.
The BMC, however, has turned down the proposition, without offering any explanation for the denial.
The group had also asked the support of the traffic department to promote awareness about autism. The department has agreed 'informally' to display messages on its public display screens at traffic signals.
Parul Kumtha, a founding member of Forum for Autism, said, "Autism is three times more prevalent in boys than girls. There are about 1,000 parents in the city who are part of the support group. We are creating awareness via social networking sites urging parents to light up their homes in blue and show solidarity for those with autism. It is unfortunate that the BMC, when asked to support the cause, did not respond. We are hoping that the traffic department will help us out."
Babita Raja, another founder said, "To commemorate Autism Awareness Day, we wore blue clothes yesterday. It is unfortunate that there was no confirmation on the proposal to light up some prominent buildings to observe this day."
Dr Vibha Krishnamurthy, developmental pediatrician who works with the NGO Umeed Child Development Center, and is on the advisory board of Forum for Autism, said, "Early identification and services for children with autism have now been included by the Indian government as part of the 12th five-year plan. Two prevalence studies are being conducted in our country. Many parents are unaware that the autistic child can also obtain concession in the SSC board examinations."
Dr Sameer Dalwai, developmental paediatrician, said, "Autism can be identified at the early age of one. Parents need to rope in trained doctors and child developmental teams. That includes occupational therapy, sensory integration, speech therapy and parental counselling. The focus is on the philosophy 'from labelled to enabled'."
Spreading the word
Meanwhile, children from the city conducted a march last evening at Ghatkopar, bearing placards sporting slogans related to autism awareness. They started out from Vikrant circle, went down 90 feet road to Vallabh baug lane, before winding back to the starting point via MG Road. Salman Khan has also agreed to the forum's request to be the Face of Autism and increase awareness about autism spectrum disorder on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day today.
Did you know?
Maharashtra was the first state in the country to allow concessions to autistic children in the SSC examinations from 2011. It is not generally known that lack of speech, lack of eye contact, odd play habits, and refusing to socialise may be indications of autism.
The other side
Manisha Mhaiskar, additional municipal commissioner (health), said, "We are all for support of World Autism Awareness Day. Once we lit up our whole BMC headquarters in blue, as part of a diabetes-awareness drive. It would be wrong to make any such co-relation. Our BMC hospitals also work for autism."