Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for intensifying global efforts to ensure that the estimated 67 million people worldwide with autism can benefit from the supportive environment they need to reach their full potential and contribute to society.
In a message marking World Autism Awareness Day, Mr. Ban noted the growing international chorus of voices calling for action to enable children and persons with autism to lead full and meaningful lives.
“This is not a far-off dream; it is a reality that can be attained by promoting positive perceptions about autism, as well as a greater social understanding of this growing challenge,” he stated.
According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), autism spectrum disorders are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and in restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour. The condition causes disabilities that can be lifelong. Emerging evidence indicates that early intervention results in improved outcomes.
The agency stressed the need to prioritize, implement and fund projects on autism spectrum disorders and other mental disorders in children in developing countries, the vast majority of whom do not currently receive any treatment or care.
The immediate challenge in these countries, it noted, is generating sufficient resources for primary health care to ensure early identification and treatment of mental disorders among children.
“A prioritized agenda for autism and other mental disorders in children should generate and strengthen the evidence base for cost-effective prevention and control strategies,” said Dr. Benedetto Saracenos, Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.
“Scaling up of services is the real need. This will also improve educational attainments and will contribute to a better informed and healthier generation of children.”
In December 2007, the General Assembly designated 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day in order to galvanize global efforts to promote greater understanding about the disorder which affects tens of millions around the globe.
This year’s observance is being marked with lectures, briefings, screenings, musical performances, video conferences, art installations and other activities carried out by the UN family and its partners.