This past April, Autism Awareness Month was celebrated in Dubai with the family-friendly Autism Rocks Festival. Festivities included live entertainment by American rappers Flo Ria and Tyga, and included activities such as laser tag, golf, zip lining, horse rides, mechanical bull, face painting, bouncy house, inflatable rides, petting zoo and a barbecue. All proceeds went toward autism awareness and research.
Autism Rocks was born from the personal convictions of Usha and Sanjay Shah Denmark, with their goal being to change perceptions of autism within society. Mrs. Shah explains: “My husband and I have an autistic son (Nikhil) and we wanted to do something for those like him. While there was a lot of support for special needs people, we felt the need to provide greater exposure for such children. We wanted to encourage more research into why people are afflicted with these conditions and what can be done about it. So we came up with the idea of Autism Rocks.”
Autism Rocks began in 2014, and has raised more than £600,000 in both London and Dubai with entertainment from such icons as Prince, Lenny Kravits, Michael Bublè and Drake, and from the talent of the official DJs, BFG and Fever.
Affecting one in 100 people, autism is an incurable disorder that alters the way a person communicates with others, and how they experience the environment around them. Its cause remains undiscovered, and lack of support affects not only the person, but their families as well.
Sanjay knows well the effects of Autism. “It was like being hit by a train when we were first told,” remembers Sanjay. “As a dad your first question is ‘How can I fix this?’ and when you’re told you can’t – that it’s something that you have to live with – it’s very hard. But if it can’t be solved, you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s the next best thing I can do?’ As a family, we felt donating money for research was important.”
Donating was easy for them, due to the millions Sanjay as made at his financial investment firm, Solo Capital. “My own view was that the best way to make a difference would be by supporting research,” Sanjay explains. “I think support groups and centers for families with autistic children are important, of course, but I wanted to help studies that try to increase our understanding of the condition.”