In celebration of Autism Awareness month, NYU Abu Dhabi's Downtown Campus garden glowed to the light of a hundred blue candles on April 25. The University's first Autism Awareness educational evening was organized by NYUAD students inspired by their volunteer work with the Autism Support Network — Abu Dhabi.
Attended by approximately 100 community guests, including parents, caregivers, educators, students, and special needs institutions, the event featured performances by the University's capoeira, dance, and a cappella student groups.
Xuexin Cai, NYUAD freshman and founder of the Attitude dance group, said, "It was fresh and inspiring for us to tell a story that could possibly happen in many autistic people's lives through dance. I believe our NYUAD artists, singers, and dancers can use their talents to help promote such a wonderful cause through their creative ways."
Guest speaker Nipa Bhuptani, founder of the Autism Support Network, and NYUAD senior Jessica Obidowski, one of the organization's student volunteers, spoke about the importance of a support network and the value provided to families touched by autism. "As a psychology major, volunteering with the network in my final year at NYU Abu Dhabi has been a way to gain a deeper understanding into the real life application of my field," Obidowski said. "It has inspired me to pursue a career in special education and mental health."
The next speaker, Dr. Eeva-Liisa Langille, consultant pediatrician at the Cambridge Rehabilitation & Medical Center, spoke about the rising prevalence of autism diagnosis in the UAE and how parents and families can seek professional support. Dr. Sarah Mavrinac then shared her perspective as a parent with an autistic child and spoke evocatively about her commitment to being an advocate of autistic children.
The evening ended with guests lighting candles as a symbolic representation of their support. Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive and four new families joined the Autism Support Network within 24 hours of the event.
But what moved student organizers the most was witnessing the families and professionals who stayed long after the event ended, to chat, share their experiences, and network with each other. Muna Mostapha, one of the parents, said, "You have no idea what it means to me. These events give me hope and strength to go on."