Mental illness continues to have a great deal of stigma associated with it despite advances in psychiatry. In 2001, WHO estimated that mental illness affects one in four people in the world. Autism is one such mental illness that affects approximately 1 in 59 children according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism is known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) meaning there is a spectrum of conditions associated with autism, from ADHD to Asperger Syndrome.
It is nearly impossible to determine just how many people are affected by autism because very few developing countries actually have the means to diagnose every case of autism. According to data from the World Health Organization, high income nations on average spend 5% of total health spending on mental health; for lower middle-income countries the figure is less than 2%. The severe limitations on the funds allocated means that developing relevant and in-depth policies at the government level comes with its own set of challenges. For countries to look at autism as a public health problem, it is going to take a lot of dialogues, awareness and rapid development.
This is where crowdfunding can help. Crowdfunding as a concept has helped spearhead global dialogue and awareness concerning autism through various ways.
Autistic patients face a lot of problems on a day to day basis, from a lack of motor skills to serious learning disabilities. Crowdfunding has helped alleviate the stigma around autism to a large extent by being a global facilitator for countless progressive stridesófrom crowdfunding for technology that helps autistic patients, to executing skill development programmes for them.
A cafe run by autistic adults
Mumbai’s Yash Charitable Foundation believes that people with developmental disabilities are valued community members and that they have several strengths to bring to the table. This strong belief led them to want to open a cafe thatís entirely run and operated by adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. They decided to resort to crowdfunding to bring this ambitious vision to life. They raised Rs 7.8 lakh and today their cafe, Cafe Arpan, employs autistic individuals and trains them to run an establishment successfully. Due to their crowdfunding journey, they were not only able to garner financial support, but also had the chance to earn a strong patronage and a steady customer base even before they inaugurated their cafe in Juhu. Cafe Arpan is not just a tribute to an exemplary vision, but it also stands for spreading awareness by facilitating a learning space for others to learn about developmental disabilities. ††
Autistic adults learning to code
Coding Autismís vision was to combat unemployment and underemployment rates among people with autism. They found that autistic people were able to pay meticulous attention to detail while displaying an affinity for repetitive tasks, among their other traits. The team at Coding Autism then thought of designing quality programs to train autistic adults in real-world career skills. The ASPIRE Web Development Immersive was one of their first bootcamps and they decided to crowdfund for the same. They raised an amount of Rs 37 lakh towards the same. Due to the multi-pronged approach of this bootcamp, they have been able to work extensively with social skill building, integrated curriculum and autism specificity among other aspects. Crowdfunding has been crucial in bridging the gap between real-world career skills and autism specificity.
Neurotechnology, autism and crowdfunding
Brain Power is a startup that focuses on using technology to make the lives of autistic individuals better. They crowdfunded for one of their most revolutionary project called Empower Me. Empower Me is essentially a digital coach that runs on smart glasses and it empowers autistic children and adults to learn social and cognitive skills by themselves. The system uses augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. They were able to raise 1244% of their original goal by raising a whopping Rs 1.87 crore in no time. The funds raised helped them to launch their product successfully and today, it continues to impact millions of autistic children worldwide.
Crowdfunding has just started impacting the world of mental illnesses. The world lacks awareness about autism and crowdfunding is possibly the smartest solution to spread awareness, empower autistic individuals while revolutionising the world, all at the same time.
Piyush Jain is co-founder and CEO of ImpactGuru.com.
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