JEDDAH — Worldwide, April is celebrated as Autism Awareness Month. Local communities in Saudi Arabia are also raising awareness on autism and supporting autistic children.
Activities and events are hosted throughout the month to highlight the growing need for more concern and awareness about autism.
Such events aim to educate the public about autism and encourage autistic people to participate in enjoyable activities alongside the rest of the community.
On April 10, the Jeddah Autism Center partnered with Al-Anjal International School and organized a vertical marathon and relay race, which was hosted by Rosewood Corniche Hotel.
It was called a vertical marathon because the competitors ran up the stairs to cover a total of 17 floors and raced back down again.
The boys were split into four different teams and each team was an interesting mix of participants from both the Jeddah Autism Center and Al-Anjal International School.
This gave the autistic children the opportunity to compete alongside the regular kids, communicate with them, develop friendships, and cheer each other on to win.
The members in each team were stationed at different levels in the hotel. One team member runs up the first four floors, and then his partner continues the climb up to the eighth level and so on until the last team member reaches the 17th floor.
The last representative of the team finally rushes back down, and the judges time how long it took each team to complete the marathon. The team with the fastest time wins.
“One of the main goals of this event is to show the society that autistic children are very talented and some of them are especially gifted at sports, drawing, painting, pottery, embroidery, and other forms of art.
“Autistic children also have an exceptional ability at remembering and recalling information, which is why many of the boys at the center entered intense programs for memorization of the Qur’an, and you may be surprised by how much they have excelled in these programs,” said Tahani Al-Wazir from Jeddah Autism Center.
“Autism is more common in boys than in girls; and the incidence of autism occurs at a ratio of one girl to every four boys. At the center, we have 35 boys and only 3 girls.
“The curriculum in place at the center has been specially tailored to meet the needs of autistic children. Some children who have entered the program from an early age and have received speech therapy and behavioral skills training have actually been integrated into regular schools that welcome autistic children among other students.
“We have been following up on their progress, and they have been performing very well,” added Al-Wazir.
Sports and physical exercise is a vital part of any program for children with autism.
“Exercising and participating in sports offers many benefits to the autistic child. It is known that autistic children have a general weakness in both voluntary and involuntary muscles. Therefore exercise helps strengthen muscles, fine tune their use and control of muscles, and improve their motor skills.
“Regular exercise has a positive effect on a wide range of skills: holding the spoon correctly when eating, holding the toothbrush, and writing.
“Exercise and movement can even strengthen the tongue muscle which in turn improves speech and pronunciation,” said Wedyan Sayadi, special education teacher at Jeddah Autism Center.
The marathon turned out to be a lot of fun. The boys from Jeddah Autism Center and Al-Anjal International School were outside, got some fresh air and sunshine as they prepped for the race.
They cooperated well with their team mates and each player received a medal and certificate of appreciation from the Rosewood Corniche Hotel.