TODAY is April 2, and while it's yet another Tuesday to most of us, it's also World Autism Awareness Day.
As such, we now have a chance to show our support for people living with the challenges of autism, their families and perhaps even organisations out there that show them their due respect and empower them.
This is why I am highlighting Care2Run and the work they do every Sunday at Taman Aman in Petaling Jaya to help children, teenagers and young adults with autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Down Syndrome among other challenges.
Speaking to Care2Run co-founder Prem Kumar Ramadas, I got a better idea of how Care2Run operates and why it meets every Sunday to help people with intellectual challenges.
"Our use of Taman Aman started with our participation in the Bursa Para Run 2018. As part of that initiative, we had people with physical disabilities and learning challenges, so we wanted to be in a park that accommodates people with such challenges," said Prem.
He said that Care2Run began in 2015, and shared with me how it began working with children and youth with learning challenges.
"We did research beforehand to find out what was needed by the community in Petaling Jaya and found that there was an under-served community in schools from dysfunctional and poor families that did not belong to a welfare home," said Prem.
"In the beginning it was predominantly for high-risk children, eventually parents who saw us while we were working with children at the University of Malaya asked us if we could work with children with learning challenges. That was the beginning of phase two for Care2Run," he added.
Prem said that Care2Run had operated at several places before coming to Taman Aman, adding that they shifted to Taman Aman as the park is very friendly for people with disabilities.
He also said that Care2Run worked with three schools up to 2018 as part of the school's co-curricular activities - SMK Sri Permata, SMK Kelana Jaya and SMK Sunway.
"We are going to be expanding to different schools which have students with learning challenges in 2019. Currently we are working with adolescents with learning challenges who are not with any schools. Those in our programme right now came in through word of mouth," said Prem.
He explained that on an average Sunday, Care2Run aims to support 20 youth with learning challenges from the age of nine to 34 and support is on a one-to-one basis.
Prem also shared with me how Care2Run designs the sporting activities in which the 20 youth participate in - a form of sports Care2Run calls "developmental sports".
"Developmental sports are sports that recognize individual learning needs. We do not compete with each other, we compete with ourselves to do better. For example, we have combined the traditional hopscotch with an exercise ladder and developmental education as a way to teach them numbers," said Prem
"Our hypothesis is that developmental sports can help young people with learning challenges to be more active, and enhance quality of life and cognitive functions," he added.
I then spoke to Care2Run volunteer Gregory Phua, who helps design Care2Run's sporting activities to get a better understanding of what goes into creating them.
"They might be on the autism spectrum and live with dyslexia at the same time, and this compounds the challenges for them. As such, I design the activities to help bring about specific behavioural actions. For example, some children are driven by sight and touch and we need to take this into account," he said.
Phua also said that there is a need to ensure that change happens on an intellectual level with the activities.
"All the exercises and activities have to incorporate safety, a learning experience and the activities need to be visually connected for children so they can identify it and participate right away. We need to be clear and precise as possible," he said.
Phua basically said that the aim of all of Care2Run's initiatives is to give the youth with us the skills to lead at least a semi-independent life as they move into adulthood, adding that these concepts and skills were woven into the games he designed.
He also shared with me why Care2Run's activities take place outdoors.
"If you put people behind four walls, you don't get a natural environment. When you get a natural environment, you begin to see how they interact with other people," he said.
It was at this point I asked Prem how the public could help Care2Run with their efforts, and he said that there are three ways people can help - the first being by helping the organization with research it is doing on developmental sport.
"We would love to get 20 high-functioning youth who have Down Syndrome or autism to help with our research on the efficacy of our programme. Currently Care2Run has 10 high-functioning participants along with 10 who are moderate to low-functioning. We need 10 more high-functioning students," he said.
Prem also said that Care2Run also needs mentors.
"As youths join us we will need more mentors, and we would welcome 20 highly-energetic mentors to come and assist us on a three-week basis," he said.
Prem also said that Care2Run needs financial help to run.
"We need about RM20,000 to operate every month to build and store learning aids and to have several employees so we can run these activities on a consistent high-quality basis," he said.
And if you're questioning why you should help Care2Run, this is what Prem had to say:
"We are doing something novel - developmental sports - to help enhance the cognitive functioning of these young individuals and their quality of life. We help them gain a measure of independence as their cognitive function improves."
This is something I believe, having seen what Care2Run does first-hand. And with that, I'd like to say that we can't go wrong giving them our support.