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Greater awareness and understanding of autism needed, says UN chief

Greater awareness and understanding of autism needed, says UN chief

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked World Autism Awareness Day today by appealing for stepped-up understanding of the disability that affects millions worldwide.

Autism, which affects people all around the globe, impedes the ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioural challenges. Estimates vary, but it is believed that up to nearly 70 million worldwide are afflicted with the disability.

In a message, Mr. Ban said that autism is both “complex and inadequately understood. “Children and adults with autism – and, indeed, those living with disabilities in general – have a double burden.”

Not only do they face the daily challenges posed by their disability, but they must also cope with society's negative attitudes, limited support for their needs and, “in some cases, blatant discrimination,” he noted.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to counter such attitudes.

That pact, which entered into force in May 2009, asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for the world's estimated 650 million persons with disabilities. So far 144 countries have signed the treaty and 83 have ratified it.

In December 2007, the General Assembly designated 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day to galvanize global efforts to promote greater understanding about the disorder which affects tens of millions around the globe.

“Let us also look within and re-evaluate our attitudes and those of our societies so we can remove the prejudices that discriminate against persons with disabilities,” the Secretary-General stressed today.