Autism: Understanding and support
April is Autism Awareness Month. As the world continues to be roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres was keen to note on World Autism Awareness Day 2021: “We must ensure that a prolonged disruption caused by COVID-19 does not result in rollbacks of the rights of people with autism.”
According to the UN, “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened glaring inequalities around the world, especially when it comes to income and wealth distribution, access to health care, protection under the law, and political inclusion. Persons with autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which have only been further exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a problem made worse by long recognised discriminatory hiring practices and workplace environments that present major obstacles for persons with autism; all of which contribute to the unemployment or severe underemployment of a large majority of adults on the autism spectrum”.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is characterised by challenges with social skills and communication, and by repetitive behaviour, so many living with ASD have difficulty finding employment, and keeping employment if they do find a job.
The 2021 World Autism Awareness Day theme, “Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World”, highlights this issue.
This year, the main global event is the virtual forum on Thursday, April 8 “that will include moderated panel discussions with individuals on the autism spectrum who have themselves experienced the challenges and seen…new opportunities in the employment market”, organisers say.
Around the world, every year on World Autism Awareness Day, hundreds of thousands of landmarks, buildings, homes, and communities are lit up with light blue lights in recognition of people living with autism. This symbolic gesture was intended to unite the world to shine a light on autism and increase greater understanding and acceptance for children, individuals, and families across the globe. What’s more, World Autism Awareness Day goes one step further to celebrate the unique talents of those with autism, while putting a huge focus on the warm embrace and welcome that these skills deserve through community events around the globe. World Autism Awareness Day can trace its roots back to November 1, 2007, when the UN first requested that a day be established as World Autism Day. A resolution to this effect was passed on December 18, 2007, and Autism Awareness Month grew out of World Autism Awareness Day. So there has been much progress on raising awareness and improving lives in the 14 years since. As more people become aware of the autism, more parents reach out for answers. More awareness leads to more knowledge and greater visibility. More people who are not living with autism learn to accept and respect people who are.
But World Autism Awareness Day also puts a spotlight on the hurdles that people with autism – and others living with autism – face every day, and these have not gotten any less challenging. While, as a growing global health issue, autism is an issue that is only gaining more understanding owing to its increasing exposure in the press, more challenges, like COVID-19, are cropping up.
As reflected in the name, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder vary greatly in terms of the level and type of impairment. Current statistics suggest that approximately 1 in 88 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high, and the lack of understanding has a tremendous impact on the individuals, their families, and communities. Further, stigmatisation and discrimination associated with neurological differences remain substantial obstacles to diagnosis and therapy, an issue that must be addressed by both public policy-makers in developing nations as well as donor countries.
While there are several local companies which already make autism causes a part of their corporate responsibility, there are many who have not yet jumped on board. They should consider doing so, and doing more. Autism is real; it affects us all. Those affected by autism need not only our understanding, but our support. More importantly, those on the spectrum deserve our understanding and support.