Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Luncheon Briefing on “Autism: Awareness, Implications, Responses”
New York, 2 April 2009

Delivered by Ms. Rachel Mayanja, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women

Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Further to the message of the Secretary-General to this important briefing, and on behalf of Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, I wish to express my deepest appreciation to the Government of Qatar for its strong commitment and outstanding contributions to raising global awareness of autism.

Autism is one of fastest growing developmental disabilities in many countries. Some country estimates show that currently, 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than paediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.i Autism affects more and more children and adults, their families, schools, communities and social service institutions. And although the evidence clearly shows that early diagnosis and intervention are vital, autism has so far received only a limited amount of legislative, policy and programmatic attention. This makes autism an urgent public health concern that could have serious implications for socio-economic development.

We must identify ways to address the needs of individuals with autism and their families, to develop appropriate policy frameworks and to respond with effective interventions. Only then will children and persons with autism have a chance to reach their full potential and to contribute to their societies.

Since its inception, the United Nations has been striving for the progressive realization of a genuine ‘society for all’. The commitment of the Organization to human rights and fundamental freedoms, deeply rooted in the inherent dignity and worth of every individual, compels us to work toward full development of the human potential of children and persons with autism.

In this effort, we have a powerful tool: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention, which recently entered into force, provides a normative and practical policy framework for promoting respect for the dignity and worth of persons with disabilities.

Enshrined in the guiding principles of the Convention is respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities. We must facilitate greater inclusion of children and persons with autism in mainstream activities, removing barriers to their full participation in education, employment and other aspects of life in society.

The Convention also calls for greater collaboration between Governments and civil society organizations, as well as partnerships with the academic and research community to realize its goals. There is much to know about autism, and this can be achieved through the exchange and sharing of information, experiences, training programmes and best practices to make the vision of the Convention a reality for children and persons with autism.

On this, the second commemoration of World Autism Awareness Day, we must not lose the momentum we have gained during the past year. We must continue pressing forward to work for the development of the full potential of children and persons with autism, including their talents and creativity as well as their mental and physical abilities.

Today, let us reaffirm our commitment to work together towards creating a genuine society for all.

Thank you.


i Autism Speaks, a major autism-related NGO (http://www.autismspeaks.org/whatisit/index.php)