The theme of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day is ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’.
Each year, World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) is celebrated on the 2nd of April globally with the goal of spreading awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disorder which impairs the communication and social interaction skills of an individual. This year, WAAD is being organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, along with other organizations that represent individuals living with autism.
According to the estimates of the World Health Organization, one out of every 160 children is living with ASD around the world. It is surprising that there aren’t enough people who understand this neurodevelopmental condition that impacts such a vast majority of the world.
ASD is a lifelong companion that affects a person’s social life and daily functionalities as well. However, one can lead a healthy life with this condition if it is identified on time and managed well. The cornerstone of managing any condition, especially the debilitating ones like autism, is awareness. As part of its awareness programme, WAAD, a UN observance day, aims to help autism patients and their caregivers in spotting the early signs which start manifesting themselves from the first year of life, fight discrimination against this disorder, acknowledge and celebrate the unique gifts ASD kids are born with.
The theme of WAAD 2019 and its significance
As already mentioned, the theme of this year’s World Autism Awareness Day is ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’. Access to technology is crucial for improving the lives of people living with any form of disability including autism, ensuring their basic human rights and cutting out the obstructions they face in living as an integral part of the mainstream society. It is important to mention here, that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities also highlights the significant role that assistive technologies can play in helping persons with disabilities to participate in the various sectors of social life and exercise their rights. Participation of people living with autism is a must for attaining UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015. The agenda upholds this commitment of the global community among others: No one should be left behind.
However, the use of assistive technologies is still a major challenge because of their high prices, lack of availability, public ignorance about their efficacy and insufficient guidance on usage. Some estimates suggest that more than 50 percent of people with disabilities in the developing world still don’t have access to the assistive devices they need.
In this context, the UN headquarters in New York will be focussing tomorrow, on the importance of the usage of assistive technology through discussions with self-advocates and experts. The topics of discussion, which aim to promote equality, equity and inclusion of autistic people with the help of technology and enable them to live a meaningful life through full-fledged social participation, include:
The Internet and digital communities: Levelling the playing field
Independent living: Smart home technology and more
Education and employment: Communication and executive functioning
Telemedicine: Opening the doors to healthcare
Previous themes of the World Autism Awareness Day
2012: Launch of Official UN “Awareness Raising” Stamp
2014: Opening Doors to Inclusive Education
2015: Employment: The Autism Advantage
2017: Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination
2018: Empowering women and girls with autism
2019: Assistive Technologies, Active Participation
The history behind the day
Way back in 2008, 2nd April was announced as the World Autism Awareness Day by The United Nations General Assembly. The resolution was passed in council on 1st November 2007 and adopted on 18th December 2007. In 2014, World Autism Awareness Day coincided with Onesie Wednesday. This day had been instituted by the National Autistic Society to inviting people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to exhibit their support for people suffering from ASD. On that day the participants wore a onesie or pajamas, and raised the slogan, “It’s alright to be different.”
World Autism Awareness Day is one of the seven health-based UN days, with others being World Water Day which is celebrated on 22nd March, World No-Tobacco Day celebrated on 31st May, International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26th June, World Mental Health Day on 10th October, World Diabetes Day on 14th November, and World Aids Day which is celebrated on 1st December every year.
Why spreading awareness is important
Despite the high prevalence of autism spectrum disorder all around the world, the healthcare options, and technologies that are available to manage this neurodevelopmental disorder barely reach half of all the population diagnosed with this condition. Moreover, the lack of information about ASD also leads to delayed diagnosis, which poses a huge challenge to the patients and their caregivers. As we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, let’s pledge that no one, including those living with autism and other disorders, is left behind.