Hundreds of events in 35 countries mark UN World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2009|
LONDON, UK: In December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in perpetuity. Yesterday, April 2, 2009, hundreds of events were held around the world in 35 countries to mark WAAD, one of only three conditions to be recognised by the UN with a dedicated day.
In a message on the occasion, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, welcomed 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.”
The UN secretary-general ended his message with a call to capture and share this spirit and to intensify global efforts to ensure that individuals with autism everywhere could benefit from the supportive environment they needed to reach their full potential and contribute to society.
It looked like a gigantic play date, but the 150 baby strollers lined up in New York's Central Park on April 2 were there for a far more serious reason. Advocates from
Autism Speaks had gathered the strollers together for World Autism Awareness Day to illustrate that one in 150 children - mostly boys - is diagnosed with the complex brain disorder.
"It's been a constant challenge," said Robert Howley, 53, of Maplewood, New Jersey, whose 18-year-old daughter, Kathy, is autistic. "You have to face it every day. It's something that never goes away."
Autism Speaks' co-founder Bob Wright said parents with autistic children need emotional support - and financial support because most insurance plans don't cover treatment. "These parents are broke and exhausted," he said.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Autism Treatment Acceleration Act on April 2 to require insurance companies to cover treatment for the disorder. The Bill was originally drafted by then-Sen. Barack Obama, now US President.
Actress Holly Robinson Peete, whose 11-year-old son, Rodney, is autistic, said the disorder put a strain on families. "My husband and I - with an 80 per cent divorce rate [for couples with autistic children] - had to do a lot to keep our family intact," Peete said. "In 1999, when we got our diagnosis, a lot of my friends thought autism was contagious. They worried about their kids playing with my son."
Much more needed to be done, she said. "Autism can be emotionally, financially and, in some cases, physically devastating to a family," she said.
Yoko Ono, the widow of John Lennon, unveiled a mural of clouds in the sky at the United Nations. The work will be auctioned in 67 puzzle pieces to raise funds and to mark the second annual World Autism Awareness Day.
The 76-year-old Japanese artist and musician created the seven-foot tall "Promise" mural from acrylic materials. Each of the 67 pieces of art will be auctioned with starting bids of $1,000 at www.charitybuzz.com/yoko
"When I was first approached to create an artwork for autism awareness I was shocked by the worldwide prevalence of this serious situation, especially among our children," Ono said at the auction launch at the UN.
"My work, 'Promises,' symbolises that we all hold a piece of this puzzle and we must work to raise awareness, funds for research and advocate for families who experience autism," she said, adding that the 67 pieces represent the 67 million people who have autism around the world.
Funds from the auction will benefit Autism Speaks, an advocacy organisation.
In Canada, the Autism Spectrum Disorders-Canadian-American Research Consortium celebrated WAAD by acknowledging the unique contributions and achievements of individuals on the spectrum and their families around the world.
The Consortium noted that it was estimated that over 60 million individuals were affected by autism world-wide. Most were living in countries where there is little or no access to treatment and public services. Incidence of autism was now as high as one in 150 with rates appearing to be increasing across the globe.
"These are not just statistics," says ASD-CARC Director Jeanette Holden. "Families dealing with autism have very complex needs and, even in Canada, diagnosis can be slow and systems of care fragmented and frequently very difficult to navigate. Intervention for children could begin much earlier if clinicians and researchers were able to work together to identify signs in the first year of life and better understand the genetic and other characteristics of ASDs which affect susceptibility and determine specific outcomes. The more we can learn, the better we are able to minimize the impacts of ASD conditions, support these families, and build a brighter future for these children."
Researchers play an active and essential role in ensuring the health and well-being of people with ASDs. Innovative and promising new research is focusing on the genetic and environmental causes of autism, the creation of extensive data sets, neurobiology of ASDs, psychological and developmental processes and comparative work on effective treatments and interventions.
Autisme Québec has organised a series of events in April, starting, on April 2, with a singing and theatre show given by people with Asperger's syndrome at the Lucien-Borne community centre in Montreal. Individuals with Asperger's will also speak about their personal experiences at a conference at the Collège Mérici on April 6.
Parents, relatives and friends have also been invited to take part in an awareness march in Montreal's Place d'Youville on April 25.
In the United Kingdom, a number of autism charities worked together on activities and events surrounding WAAD. The theme was "Stand up for autism" and a photo gallery was developed to mark the day. The idea was that as many people as possible upload a photo - for example of themselves or of their son or daughter - and write a small message to show support and spread the word about World Autism Awareness Day.
World Autism Awareness Day Facebook and Twitter pages were also set up, as well as a special You Tube page. This features video clips of various celebrities “standing up for autism” - including CBeebies presenter Sarah Jane Honeywell climbing out of a cardboard box!
The following British charities were involved in this initiative: Autism Alliance UK, Autism Anglia, Autism Cymru, Autism Initiatives, Autism London, Autism NI, Autism Speaks, Autism West Midlands, Disabilities Trust, Hampshire Autistic Society, Kingwood, National Autistic Society, Priors Court Foundation, Research Autism, Scottish Society for Autism, Sussex Autistic Community Trust, TreeHouse and the Wessex Autistic Society.
Hundreds of people also took part in a march in London to mark World Autism Awareness Day. The event was organised by Heather Edwards, from Gosport, whose son Josh, 16, has severe autism. Edwards, 41, said the aim was to raise awareness about autism and put pressure on the government to provide more funding for research, education, care and respite.
People from all over the country took part – including singer Kate Nash and actor Leslie Grantham, who played "Dirty" Den Watts in the BBC soap opera, EastEnders.
A group of campaigners, including Edwards and Josh, met the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, to discuss their concerns.
Hailing the day a huge success, Edwards said: "It was brilliant. Josh knocked on the door of No. 11 and automatically went running inside. We were greeted by Alistair Darling and his wife, Maggie. They made u