For Sanjay Shah, autism awareness is more than a social issue. Shah’s son, Nikhil, has is autistic and Shah along with his wife have experienced first hand the lack of resources and understanding available for autistic children even though there was a large awareness for children with other special needs. The Dubai couple wanted to make a difference in the lives of children with autism as well as make a difference in their son’s life. Hosting an autism awareness festival was the seemingly perfect solution.
April is Autism Awareness Month around the world and Sanjay Shah Denmark decided to host the festival during April to bring the greatest impact and greatest awareness to the cause. The festival, called Autism Rocks, took place on April 2nd, 2016 and included a variety of festivities and events. One such event included a concert with international superstar rappers Tyga and Flo Rida from the United States. Other events included additional live music performers, laser tag, zip lines, horse rides, crazy golf, bouncy castles, bull riding rodeo style, a petting zoo and face painting. Food was also available for purchase with a delicious barbecue stye event.
The festival itself was founded in 2014 by Sanjay and Usha Shah. The two are continuing with the annual festival and have managed to win over many great performers in the past including Drake, Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Sanjay and Usha say that they will continue to host the annual festival as long as they can because of its potential impact on their son and other autistic children and adults around the world. The exact number of people living with autism in the United Arab Emirates is unknown however in the United States the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that 1 in 68 children will fall on the autism spectrum and more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder according to the Autism Society.
The cost to attend Autism Rocks was Dh50 per individual. All proceeds were slated to be donated for autism research. Sanjay Shah and his wife, Usha, hoped that the festival would help to bring awareness to the condition and also to help society understand how to deal with autistic people. The couple felt that many people were uneasy around their young son and didn’t know what to expert or how to interact with him. They also had negative stereotypes and Sanjay and Usha were determined to make a difference in the way people perceive autistic individuals.