Imad Nabli works as a Principal Architect for BP and has been raising awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace for many years. He decided to take his commitment to the cause that extra step by running the 2021 London Marathon.

We interviewed Imad shortly after he’d completed the 26.2-mile run in honour of his son Adam who is on the autism spectrum. In this interview, Imad shares his story in the hope of not only raising awareness for autism research but inspiring others to step out of their comfort zone and take on the challenge.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose to run the London Marathon

I’m a father of two and have been living in London for the last 16 years.

I’d always been active but the moment I started work I became quite sedentary and wasn’t able to find one type of exercise that I could fit into my busy schedule.

Looking after my son Adam, 8, who is on the autism spectrum can be quite challenging, so I wanted to find something for myself as lockdown had a real effect on my mental health. I tried various sports but when I started running it felt like ‘love at first run’.

I started running in February and decided I wanted to challenge myself further while raising awareness for autism, which is why I signed up for the London Marathon. I chose the London Marathon because I could wear the colours of Autistica and be proud of running for a purpose.

Why is running for autism research important to you?

Adam has a severe speech impediment, a lot of OCD behaviours and an additional diagnosis of ADHD. When we got Adam’s diagnosis at three years of age, our first instinct was to find a way to support him, and at the time I don’t remember finding any research that helped us. Autism research has improved over recent years but there is still so much development needed, especially in early intervention to educate parents, local authorities and schools.

Adam and other autistic people may need support their entire life and we need to think about who will be there to support them. The more research there is, the more treatments, understanding and help there will be for other parents like myself.

Why did you choose to support Autistica?

I knew I wanted to run for autism research but I wanted to find a charity that shared my purpose. I love the fact you have the Autistica network where you link up families with research and professionals within autism.

I also used some research that Autistica had done to help with the neurodiversity awareness that I am involved in at BP, and it felt like the right move to choose Autistica to help raise money for future research projects.

What has been the hardest thing for you when taking on this challenge?

The hardest thing was to reconcile home, training and work life. I like sticking to a plan but I found it hard to juggle my priorities. I had to adapt and start running at night, in the rain and making time for training while still being able to fit in my parental duties. I wanted to be consistent and found that as I was approaching the deadline it was becoming harder and harder because my children were out of school and I had a lot of other things going on in my life, meaning it was harder to fit in time for training.

How has taking up running helped you personally?

As a parent, you can find it very challenging to bring up a child on the autism spectrum. Partnered with the pandemic, not seeing friends and family or socialising, it put a lot of stress on myself and my family. Adam had also recently had his ADHD diagnosis and we were testing out new medication for him during lockdown, but it caused a lot of negative side effects, which made it very difficult for us. I needed to find something to boost my mental wellbeing and running was the only thing to do in lockdown, I thought even if I can’t run, I can just walk and get some fresh air.

Running helped me get back on track, it helped me focus and released some tension. I would go for a run in the morning and when I came home I felt so much more productive and started the day with a clear mind. The physical benefits of running come with so many mental health benefits.

Tell us about your work on raising awareness for neurodiversity in the workplace

My work on raising awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace started in 2016. At that time Adam was 3 years old and I had just managed to get Adam into a formal assessment with the NHS, and I felt that as a family we were very informed on the condition. I met with health professionals, schools, local authorities and experts to build a case to make sure Adam had essential provisions and adjustments from the second he starts school to give him all the opportunities to thrive. I had so much passion and energy that came from this and realised that nobody was talking about neurodiversity at work. I was also encouraged when I heard a story from a group of parents at BP in North America who had successfully lobbied internally to make sure the private medical insurance covers speech and language therapy, applied behaviour analysis and occupational therapy, so that employees are not out of pocket paying for those therapies. I was so encouraged by their effort that I started to link up with colleagues to help raise the bar and bring this to our work agenda.

I joined BP Accessibility as a committee member alongside neurodivergent colleagues. We focused on autism awareness to start with and began a lot of grassroot movements, word of mouth, awareness campaigns and panels with our technological partners such as Deloitte, Microsoft and EY.

Fast forward a few years of awareness training and we now have a voice within BP for neurodiversity to continue the work we started. From meetings with clear agendas, dyslexic friendly fonts, to having a quiet room in the workplace. We also have a diverse number of suppliers and partners for the work we want to do in BP.

Can you give one piece of advice for anyone considering running the London marathon next year?

Follow a plan. A plan creates a framework and allows you to find what works for you. It gently builds consistency to your daily routine and makes your goals feel more realistic and achievable. There is a plan for everyone and you can adjust it to suit you. There are also plenty of free coaching plans out there to get you started which include guided runs for beginners.

The London Marathon is a real test but Imad proved that no matter your fitness levels, running for a cause close to your heart helps you get over the finish line.

Click here to find out more about Imad's story and the amazing work he has done for neurodiversity and Autistica.