Sports is a universal language that cuts across gender, race, tribe, creed, political affiliation, and of course, physical and mental capacities. Over the years, sport has fostered unity among nations, reconciled the worst of enemies and engendered development, amongst several other roles it plays.
For Toks Bakare however, the healing power in sport is a formidable tool that can be used to improve the lives of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) by equipping them with life-saving skills such as Swimming, Cycling and Running.
And so come Saturday, April 20th, the Lagos Triathlon for Autism, which is Bakare’s brainchild, an event which she describes as ‘a crazy idea’, will hold in Lagos, kicking off at 8am at the National Stadium in Surulere where Bakare and at least 50 other individuals will swim for 500m at the Achwac Swimming School (at the stadium), cycle for 15km, and run for 2km to raise at least N850,000, which is targeted at improving the quality of life of children with ASD.
The Lagos Triathlon for Autism is the first of its kind in Nigeria and was deliberately fixed in April to coincide with the World Autism Awareness Month. Also worthy of mention is the fact that this event is coming up a few weeks after the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The Special Olympics Games is a multi-sport event for athletes with intellectual disabilities in the tradition of the Special Olympics movement, which is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to five million athletes and Unified Sports partners across 172 countries, including Nigeria.
Bakare runs a Consulting Agency that provides sustainable services for people with autism in the developing world and in places where services are inadequate or insufficient, such as Nigeria. She believes that change is possible through education and desires to create a world that understands children with ASD better.
Having spent roughly five years in Nigeria after relocating from England, her agency has assessed over 174 children, provided Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) treatment services to several of the children assessed and even more have been impacted through her advocacy work.
She says, “Part of my mission is to help create a tolerant and understanding perception of children with developmental disorders, and to break down stigma and attitudes that hinder our progress. We do this by educating the masses in a very real and tangible way”.
Bakare believes that introducing children with ASD to sport provides a productive platform to help channel their energy.
She said: “Sports is a universal thing, it is a good way to get lots of people, and this particular sport is good for children. Getting your child swimming lessons could be potentially life-saving for the child. Children with autism are at a higher risk of drowning, so we want to help save some lives.
“Cycling creates important motor and cognitive benefits for children with autism. We see cycling as a huge milestone for children with autism so we really encourage parents to try to get them bicycles, to get them pedaling. Many children with autism naturally love to run. We want to keep them active doing what they love, so running is a very good outlet for energy.
“A lot of children experience hyper-activity and a lot of parents will complain about hyper-activity, so teach your child how to run on a track; that will be fun. Almost everyone is connected to someone with autism so come out, play some sport and be part of the community. Everyone deserves a chance to be part of a community”.
All the money raised goes directly to impacting the children by providing life-saving swimming lessons for at least 100 children with autism in partnership with Achwac Swimming School at the National Stadium, provide Parent Support (in partnership with Specialist Psychologists), provide outreach support to families in underserved areas (in partnership with The Winford Centre), and gluten-free food packs (in partnership with Private Nutritionists).
Bakare is counting on the support of well-meaning Nigerians to make the event a success by giving back to the society: “We are doing this for children with Autism Disorder Spectrum, but we encourage the general public, both young and old to come out”, she said.
“Come prepared with your kit; if you don’t have bicycles, we have them ready for you free of charge, so anyone who wants to get involved absolutely can. We already have a few volunteers, and we are calling for anyone who wants to participate to do so.”