La Trobe alumnus joins fight for autism research

La Trobe University graduate Pradeep Raj raised more than $6500 for La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre by jumping in the ring for the first time.

After learning about La Trobe’s ground-breaking research into the early detection of autism, Pradeep Raj decided he wanted to support the cause. Searching for a novel way to attract the attention of his friends, family and colleagues, he turned to Muay Thai kickboxing.

“I thought people would enjoy the idea of a CPA accountant getting in the ring for the first time,” Pradeep said.

But before he made his Muay Thai debut, Pradeep committed to an eight-week intensive training program. While training, he stepped up his efforts to raise funds and awareness of La Trobe’s Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC).

OTARC is Australia's first centre dedicated to research on autism across the lifespan. Part of OTARC’s ground-breaking research is on detecting autism signs in babies and toddlers, and the centre has developed an app to empower parents to identify signs of autism early. This can lead to life-changing interventions for children.

Pradeep said he knew the difference early autism intervention could make in children’s lives.

“Every family is either directly or indirectly touched by autism,” Pradeep said. “When I started telling people about why I was doing the fight, so many parents spoke about their children and how if they had known early diagnosis was possible they would have sought assistance earlier,” he said.

“I like how OTARC does research but they also do a lot of community education and programs – that’s why I wanted to support them,” Pradeep said.

Pradeep became an advocate for OTARC, speaking about his fundraising campaign to local radio, television and newspapers. He and his friends also distributed brochures in their neighbourhoods about the campaign, as well as setting up fundraising stalls at his workplace. Pradeep’s promotional efforts helped widen his pool of supporters and increase awareness of OTARC’s work.

“Obviously people I knew gave, but then I started getting donations from people who I didn’t know, even from people overseas,” Pradeep said. “It was clearly a cause that a lot of people care about,” he said.

Pradeep’s family and friends gathered to see the main event, and while he enjoyed some triumphant moments in the ring, he said he was happy to return to his day job.

“It was hard work but I enjoyed the challenge,” he said. “Hopefully the money we raised will make a positive change in children’s lives.”

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