Mr Palm's remarks on behalf of the UN system in Albania during the World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) on 2 April 2013
Today is World Autism Awareness day. Autism has become a growing concern around the world. And while the estimates of the proportion of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders varies according to survey methodologies and definitions, one thing is clear: Autism is a significant issue. Autism doesn’t discriminate by regions, national borders, race, or whether children are born to parents who are rich or who are poor.
There is also growing consensus – I would call it a global movement – about what governments, institutions, professionals and communities ought to do. The 2010 Bucharest declaration initiated by WHO was a milestone. Last December, also pushed by Albania, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on the socio-economic needs of individuals, families and societies affected by autism spectrum disorders and associated disabilities. Today, we want to further promote the key messages of the UN resolution, which are:
• Increase awareness among the public and professionals of autism
I like to acknowledge the position and efforts by Albania, especially the Children Foundation under the leadership of Dr. Berisha, for helping to move this agenda forward. I also like to recognize the farsighted decision by the Albanian legislator to provide disability grants to children with autism and their families who care for them.
Especially the early detection and intervention among very young children is very important. With the right approach a small but significant portion of children diagnosed with autism can be helped so that they can live a life like anyone else. For many others, specialized expert attention can mitigate the conditions, so life becomes a little easier for them and their caretakers. Therefore we need to infuse the health professions – doctors and nurses – with greater knowledge about the identification of autism, correct professional advice and appropriate referral. And let me underline, early detection is key. With the Children’s Foundation, Albania has a resource at its disposal which Albania needs to put to good use.
Then there is the social aspect. Parents and family who have to care for persons with autism have a very difficult time. We must not leave them alone. The additional disability grant paid by the Albania government for these families is a very good step. But money alone will not solve all problems. There must absolutely be no stigma – for the child or the families.
We must ensure the social inclusion of people with autism – through an improved social protection system and improved sector policies and actions – also in the area of education or employment. One component of the United Nations – Government of Albania program of cooperation is about the social inclusion of people living with disabilities, and those suffering from autism will be part of this.
For instance, UNDP is exploring the possibilities of generating social enterprises that would give people suffering from autism the opportunity for productive work. WHO is presently preparing a report specifying key challenges and priorities for helping people affected by autism. UNICEF is currently preparing a detailed survey on children with disabilities, their numbers, their conditions and to what degree they can enjoy their basic rights.
Important social measures recommended by the United Nations include the creation of networks of community-based mental health services, including day care, parent self-help associations, or parent support groups, who all may also benefit from specialized advice made available through the state.
Albania has last year ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability. The big message is that people with disabilities need to be fully included into our society. We must not keep autistic children separate or in seclusion, but we must accommodate people with autism in our midst. And this requires a multi-sector response. Very good efforts have been done, and the Children’s Foundation has been leading this. We now want to see the engagement of institutions in other sectors – schools, daycare centers, local governments, social work, all health personnel, the media and the public, to become responsive to the children who live with autism, and the parents and families who care for them.