Two United Nations human rights experts today called for an end to discrimination against autistic persons and a celebration of diversity. Speaking ahead of World Autism Awareness Day, the Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, and on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, noted that about one per cent of the world’s population -some 70 million people- is estimated to be on the autism spectrum worldwide. “As part of human diversity, autistic persons should be embraced, celebrated and respected. However, discrimination against autistic children and adults is more the rule rather than the exception.
In many countries, autistic persons lack access to services which would support, on an equal basis with others, their right to health, education, employment, and living in the community. When available, services are too often far from human rights friendly or evidence-based.
Autistic persons are particularly exposed to professional approaches and medical practices which are unacceptable from a human rights point of view. Such practices – justified many times as treatment or protection measures – violate their basic rights, undermine their dignity, and go against scientific evidence.
Autistic children and adults face the proliferation of medicalized approaches relying on the over-prescription of psychotropic medications, their placement in psychiatric hospitals and long-term care institutions, the use of physical or chemical restraint, electro-impulsive therapy, etc. This may be particularly harmful and lead to the deterioration of their condition. All too often, such practices amount to ill-treatment or torture.
The autism spectrum should be understood from a broader perspective, including in research. We call for caution about enthusiastic attempts to find the causes of autism and ways to ‘cure’ autism through sophisticated but not necessarily ethical research. Autism as a condition is a critical challenge for modern health systems, in which we need to ensure that the practice and science of medicine is never again used to cause the suffering of people.
More investment is needed in services and research into removing societal barriers and misconceptions about autism. Autistics persons should be recognized as the main experts on autism and on their own needs, and funding should be allocated to peer-support projects run by and for autistic persons.
It is about providing individuals and families with the necessary skills and support to have choice and control over their lives. It is also about equal opportunities, access to inclusive education and mainstream employment to achieve equality and rights enjoyment by autistic persons. It is about promoting their independence and respecting their dignity.
Autistic persons should be respected, accepted and valued in our societies, and this can only be achieved by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their basic rights and freedoms.”
Secretary-General’s Message for 2015:
I am hugely encouraged by the growing public awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the increase of public services to many of those affected. World Autism Awareness Day not only fosters greater understanding, it empowers parents into seeking early intervention therapies and calls for the full integration of persons with autism into society. It also invites policy-makers to encourage schools to open their doors to students with autism. With adequate support, they can — and should — be educated in the heart of their communities. Now is the time for even greater access and work opportunities for persons with autism.
This year, I am pleased to launch an employment “Call to Action”, inviting businesses to make concrete commitments to employ people on the autism spectrum. We encourage public offices, corporations, and small businesses to have a closer look at the way they perceive people with autism, to take the time to learn about the condition and to create life-changing opportunities.
People with autism have enormous potential. Most have remarkable visual, artistic or academic skills. Thanks to the use of assistive technologies, non-verbal persons with autism can communicate and share their hidden capabilities. Recognizing the talents of persons on the autism spectrum, rather than focusing on their weaknesses, is essential to creating a society that is truly inclusive.
Yet even where autism awareness is most advanced, more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed. That is why it is so important for employers to understand their unique and often exceptional skills, and to enable work environments where they can excel.
This important mission can only be achieved with appropriate vocational training and adequate support alongside a recruitment process that can allow people to successfully integrate into workforces around the world.
The United Nations General Assembly has called for greater access and opportunities for persons with autism. In declaring 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day, the Assembly also called for training for public administrators, service providers, care-givers, families and non-professionals to support the integration of persons with autism into society, so that they can realize their full potential.
On World Autism Awareness Day, let us join forces to create the best possible conditions for those with autism, so that they can make their own contribution to a future that is fair and sustainable for all.
– Learn more about the World Autism Awareness Day, 2015 Theme: Employment: The Autism Advantage
– “Call to Action” Employment for Persons with Autism