Spotlight on autism

Russell Fox walks on a bed of glass to create awareness for autism at the Glass Walker challenge which took place at the V&A Waterfront last week.

Mentalist and magician Russell Fox set a Guinness World Record for walking on a bed of broken wine bottles for 32km in 29 hours in The Glass Walker Challenge to raise awareness about autism last week.

“Russell is walking on broken glass for 29 hours today. Imagine what Russell must be going through. So imagine what a parent with an autistic child goes through. Just like Russell, it’s like walking on broken glass their whole lives,” said Nandini Gokulchandran, head of medical services at NeuroGen Brain and Spine Institute in India.

She was speaking at the fundraising event held at the V&A Waterfront on Friday November 3, in support of Nosh for Josh, an NPO which aims to help with the development of autistic children and create a platform of support for people affected by it.

Nosh for Josh was established by Sandy and Marc Sandy, to raise funds for their son, Joshua, 10, to go for a stem cell operation.

They continued their campaign after seeing a vast improvement in Joshua. Joshua, who was born on World Autism Day, marked on April 2, was two-years-old when he was diagnosed with autism.

The event aimed to raise
R500 000 for Nosh for Josh to send as many autistic children as possible for a stem cell therapy operation at NeuroGen Brain and Spine Institute.

On Saturday November 4, at about 11pm, Russell Fox ended his 32km walk, setting a world record.

Nosh for Josh board member Gabriela Rishka Wiener said some people stayed with Mr Fox to support him, while others came to check on him through his journey.

“Some people walked with him and spoke to him while he walked and he did it. We are proud of him.”

It was unclear how much money was raised, but Ms Wiener said the event was about raising awareness for autism. Speaking to the CapeTowner before the event, Mr Fox said he felt “good” about the challenge. “Some of my challenges are obviously watching my steps, fatigue, and how I handle myself when I’m tired. This is not the first time I do glass-walking, but it’s the first time I’ve done this length.”

Mr Fox, who grew up in Bothasig, but now lives in Melkbosstrand, said as a child he was declared unreachable.

“I was a special needs child. I was born with an array of challenges like epilepsy, Tourette’s, autism and ADHD among others. I was told I could never read, write or drive. Through mentalisation and understanding of the human perception I’ve managed to overcome it all,” he said.

“I don’t have autism, I have a busy brain – my perception of it has changed. The mind of an autistic child is chaotic. It’s like a prison. And being on glass for 29 hours is as chaotic as an autistic child’s mind.”

He said as a child, he remembers how alone his mother was. “There are plenty of families that feel alone when they have special needs children, so we want to help them and support them, and we do that through Nosh for Josh.”

He said he got involved in Nosh for Josh when Sandy heard his story two years ago, and they decided to partner.

Sunkiree Veerasamy, an autism therapist at the Carbonado Energy Autism Centre in Athlone, where Joshua was enrolled last year, said she has 14 children in the programme she runs from Ned Doman High School which haven’t been to school because they didn’t meet the criteria at mainstream autistic schools. “Joshua was the second child who joined the programme. Since he joined and has gone for stem cell therapy, Joshua has shown vast improvements. His speech is coming together and his social communication has improved. He now does maths and literacy, he does music and he is more independent. He can even tie his own shoelaces.”

She said it proved that if you put disadvantaged children in a stimulating environment, that they grow. “For instance, for autistic children, their brains interpret pictures better, so there are many bold pictures in the classrooms.”

Dr Gokulchandran said children with autism have lots of potential. “There are many people who have accomplished great things who were autistic – Albert Einstein was autistic. All they need is support.” While Mr Fox walked over the glass in the background, audiences enjoyed entertainment by local vocalist Tasneem Williams, comedian Ismail Moses and Beatboxer Munier Benjamin, among others, while comedian Wayne McKay MC’d the event.

Miss Power Woman 2017, Melika Razavi, also attended in support of the event, as well as the Transformers Exhibition, who will be donating a portion of their tickets sales of their show in GrandWest, showing until January 21, to Nosh for Josh. For more information or to get involved, call Sandy at 0795068623 or Gabriela at 078 155 0752. To donate to the cause, go to www.backabuddy.co.za/charity/profile/nosh-josh