Two Canadian experts in autism research are donning jerseys this morning and joining the laced-up droves of Tel Aviv Marathon runners, all in the name of better autism research.
Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, a developmental pediatrician at the University of Alberta and one of the world’s leaders in infant autism diagnosis, is in Israel this week ahead of the first-ever Israel-Canada Autism Spectrum Disorder Symposium in Jerusalem. The meetings, which will be held March 1-4 at Hebrew University, are designed to bring together Canadian and Israeli experts in the field to share research and further scientific partnerships between the two countries.
But Zwaigenbaum, as well as symposium coordinator Connie Putterman, a parent advocate for autism suffers whose 14-year-old son falls on the autism spectrum, have arrived in Israel a few days early and will join the 40,000 runners pounding the pavement in Friday’s Tel Aviv marathon in the name of their pet cause.
“I’ve been involved in the Jewish Canadian philanthropic community over the years and I wanted to see things happening in a joint way, not just raising money to give to Israel,” says Putterman, a Toronto resident. “And when we had a child 14 years ago we became very involved in the autism research world in Canada, and it occurred to me that there was a shared opportunity and need here.”
Zwaigenbaum hopes that the conference, which is being held in conjunction with the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University, will benefit autism sufferers, and their parents, in both countries.
“Both countries have wonderful autism services and research, but at this point there is very little interaction between the two countries,” he says. “We really want to foster some partnerships and new collaborations.”
Both Zwaigenbaum and Putterman are running the half marathon on Friday. Full marathons and 10k and 5k courses will also be in full swing. Putterman has raised more than $10,000 for autism research through sponsors of her run, while Zwaigenbaum, who has several half marathons under his belt, is hoping to use his run to raise awareness of the developmental disorder.
Training hasn’t been easy; while the Tel Aviv Marathon boasts flat terrain and sunny February skies, the two Canadians have had to train at home in frigid temperatures. Zwaigenbaum has gotten into shape by cross-country skiing, something his Israeli counterparts at the conference will likely know little about.