World Autism Awareness Day: ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’

World Autism Awareness Day: ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’

Dr. Kaushik Bharati
Medically Reviewed by The Medindia Medical Review Team on April 1, 2019 at 2:48 PM
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Highlights:
  • World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) is being celebrated on 2nd April 2019
  • The main objective of WAAD is to raise awareness about autism
  • Assistive technologies will enable people with autism to lead a better quality of life
World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) is celebrated on 2nd April every year. Instituted by the United Nations in 2007, this year will be the 12th year running. The main aim is to create awareness by highlighting the hurdles and difficulties that millions of children and their families living with autism face every day.
World Autism Awareness Day: ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’

WAAD also celebrates the unique talents of those with autism by giving them due recognition through awards. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe celebrate this day through various events and educational activities to increase our awareness, understanding, and acceptance of autism and foster worldwide support to help the helpless.

United Nations' Contribution to World Autism Awareness Day

The United Nations (UN) was instrumental in setting up the World Autism Awareness Day, which was launched by the UN in 2007 with the aim of encouraging its member states to take measures to raise awareness about people with autism. An important component of the UN mandate on the rights of persons with disabilities, including autism, has been embodied in the "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".

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The UN General Assembly passed the Resolution on WAAD, which has four main components:
  • Declaration of 2nd April as World Autism Awareness Day
  • Participation of all UN organizations, member states, and public and private organizations in the WAAD celebrations
  • Awareness generation at all strata of society
  • Delivery of the Secretary-General's message on 2nd April to all UN organizations and member states

2019 World Autism Awareness Day Theme: "Assistive Technologies, Active Participation"

The 2019 theme, "Assistive Technologies, Active Participation" is focused on highlighting access to affordable assistive technologies to eliminate all barriers so that people with autism can have equal rights to freely participate and contribute to all activities in their respective communities across the globe. This will greatly facilitate the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, the importance of assistive devices in enabling people with disabilities to exercise their human rights has been acknowledged by the UN "Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities". 

How Can Autism Awareness be Increased?

World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated through various events and activities to generate awareness about this condition. Some of these are highlighted below:
  • Conferences & Symposia: These are suitable for medical students and healthcare professionals involved in caring for children with autism
  • Panel Discussions: These may include policymakers, medical experts, health administrators, NGOs, and representatives from civil society, including family members of autistic patients
  • Medical Camps: These provide an opportunity for parents of autistic children to consult with doctors, clinical psychologists and other specialists to gain first-hand knowledge about managing the condition
  • Art Exhibitions: Exhibition of artwork by artists with autism will not only encourage them, but also inspire budding artists
  • Drawing Competitions: These are very effective for generating awareness among children through drawing and painting on topics related to autism
  • Autism Day 'Walks': Awareness can be created by organizing 'walks' to spread the message through banners and placards
  • Media Coverage: Showcasing the events on TV, radio and social media, as well as through newspaper articles on autism, will go a long way in creating awareness about the condition among the masses 

Autism: Facts & Figures

  • 70 million people suffer from autism worldwide
  • 80 percent of autism patients live in the developing world
  • 1 in 59 children are born with autism around the world
  • Prevalence of autism has increased 6-15 percent since 2010
  • Boys are 4-times more likely to have autism than girls
  • 31 percent of children with autism have an intellectual disability (IQ < 70)
  • 1 in 3 children with autism cannot communicate verbally
  • Autism affects people of all socioeconomic groups and ethnic backgrounds
  • Older parents are more likely to have a child with autism
  • Parents of an autistic child have a 2-18 percent risk of having a second child with autism
  • 28 percent of autistic 8-year-olds exhibit self-injurious behavior (head banging, skin scratching, arm biting)
  • 90 percent of deaths of children with autism are due to drowning
  • Economic burden of autism is $60,000 annually throughout childhood
  • Vaccines do not cause autism
  • Autism cannot be cured
  • Children with autism are also affected by the following conditions:
    • 30-61 percent suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • 50 percent have chronic sleep problems
    • 11-40 percent suffer from anxiety disorders
    • 7 percent suffer from depression
    • Likelihood of gastrointestinal disorders is 8-times that of normal children

What Can be Done for a Child With Autism?

There are several ways to improve the plight of children with autism. Early intervention is the key to successful treatment. This can improve learning, language and social skills, as well as the underlying brain disorder. Research evidence-based therapies such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) can be effective in improving the behavior of autistic children. Moreover, these children can also benefit immensely from interventions such as speech and occupational therapies.

The Way Forward

Some of the ways by which people with autism can be benefited, directly or indirectly, are briefly highlighted below:
  • Education: Educating health and social workers is important so that they can better serve patients with autism. Accurate and up-to-date educational material, specifically tailored to meet their needs, should be provided to enhance their understanding of autism
  • Workshops: These are essential for imparting knowledge on various aspects of autism. Some of the focus areas could include applied behavior analysis (ABA), understanding autism, dealing with anxiety, and improving social, language and friendship skills
  • Policies & Legislations: Framing policies and passing legislation that encompass the needs of autistic people will benefit them immensely. The EMPOWER Care Act introduced by the US Congress for benefiting people with autism, is an example of a good legislation
  • Advocacy: There is a need for advocacy for various policies and programs that positively impact the lives of people and their families with autism
  • Fundraising: This can be done in various ways such as organizing walks, marathons (half or full), cycling and other such sporting events in which the participants receive sponsorships to raise funds for people suffering from autism
  • Family Outreach Programs: Outreach programs that cater to the needs of families living with autism are very helpful. These programs can provide expert guidance by trained professionals on how to manage an autistic child and cope with the condition
  • Medical Research: Research is essential for developing new drugs and therapeutics for treating patients with autism. Therefore, dedicated funding should be available for autism research. In this regard, the Autism CARES Act in the USA, which ensures funding, specifically for autism research, is an important example
  • Healthcare Interventions: Health interventions based on psychosocial approaches, such as behavioral treatment can enhance communication skills and social behavior of children with autism
  • Reduction of Stigma: People with autism worldwide are severely stigmatized, leading to discrimination and violation of human rights. Proper access to services and support for these vulnerable populations is required
  • Social Support: People with autism require social support through accessible interventions that enhance their safety and security, and ensure a better quality of life

Conclusion

What better way to conclude than through the words of António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General: "On World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms."

References :
  1. World Autism Awareness Day: 2 April - United Nations, New York, USA - (https://www.un.org/en/events/autismday/)
  2. Autism Spectrum Disorders - World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland - (https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/autism-spectrum-disorders)
  3. World Autism Awareness Day - National Health Portal, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India - (https://www.nhp.gov.in/world-autism-awareness-day_pg)
  4. World Autism Awareness Day - Autism Speaks®, New York, USA - (https://www.autismspeaks.org/world-autism-awareness-day)
  5. Children's Autism, Auckland, New Zealand - (https://www.autism.org.nz/)


Source: Medindia

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