World Autism Awareness Day 2 April

World Autism Awareness Day 2020 on “The Transition to Adulthood”

The theme of the 2020 World Autism Awareness Day is “The Transition to Adulthood”. 

Becoming an adult is typically equated with becoming a full and equal participant in the social, economic and political life of one’s community. However, the transition to adulthood remains a significant challenge for persons with autism because of the lack of opportunities and support devoted to this phase of their life. As a result, the completion of high school, when education and other supported services provided by some governments tend to cease, has often been likened to “falling off a cliff”.

The 2020 United Nations observance of the Day draws attention to issues of concern related to the transition to adulthood, such as the importance of participation in youth culture and the community self-determination and decision-making, access to post-secondary education and employment, and independent living.

Decade of Action

The WAAD observance is held in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. With just 10 years to go, The United Nations has launched a Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline agreed upon by world leaders.

Progress is being made in the implementation of some of the SDGs. Extreme poverty and child mortality rates continue to fall, there is progress on gender equality, and unemployment has been reduced globally. However, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently noted, “it is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals.”

Inequality continues to rise and marginalized groups, such as persons with disabilities, “continue to face multiple disadvantages, denying them both life opportunities and fundamental human rights,” according to the 2019 annual progress report on the SDGs. Greater efforts are, therefore, needed to create an inclusive society and to ensure equal rights for persons with disabilities, including autism, as mandated by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

“Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is a matter of justice as well as an investment in our common future,” the Secretary-General said. “It is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind.”

The Decade of Action aims to mobilize everyone – governments, civil society, businesses and individuals – in the effort to accelerate solutions to the world‘s biggest challenges. It calls for holding leaders to account, and shining a light on solutions that demonstrate what is possible.

The WAAD observance draws attention to the need for innovative programmes designed to support youth with autism to navigate the transition to adulthood, and to become full participants in the realization of the SDGs, both as agents of change and beneficiaries.

In 2008, The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day. The observance of the Day at UN Headquarters is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in close cooperation with persons with autism and their representative organizations, and with the support of participating Member States.

Secretary-General’s Message

On World Autism Awareness Day, we recognize and celebrate the rights of persons with autism.  This year’s observance takes place in the midst of a public health crisis unlike any other in our lifetimes — a crisis that places persons with autism at disproportionate risk as a result of the coronavirus and its impact on society.

Persons with autism have the right to self-determination, independence and autonomy, as well as the right to education and employment on an equal basis with others.  But the breakdown of vital support systems and networks as a result of COVID-19 exacerbates the obstacles that persons with autism face in exercising these rights. We must ensure that a prolonged disruption caused by the emergency does not result in rollbacks of the rights that persons with autism and their representative organizations have worked so hard to advance.

Universal human rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities, must not be infringed upon in the time of a pandemic. Governments have a responsibility to ensure that their response includes persons with autism. Persons with autism should never face discrimination when seeking medical care.  They must continue to have access to the support systems required to remain in their homes and communities through times of crisis, instead of facing the prospect of forced institutionalization.

We all have a role to play in ensuring that the needs of people who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 are met during this difficult period. Information about precautionary measures must be provided in accessible formats. We must also recognize that when schools employ online teaching, students with non-standard ways of learning may be at a disadvantage. The same applies to the workplace and working remotely. Even in these unpredictable times, we must commit to consulting persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, and ensuring that our non-traditional ways of working, learning, and engaging with each other, as well as our global response to the coronavirus, are inclusive of and accessible to all people, including persons with autism.

The rights of persons with autism must be taken into account in the formulation of all responses to the COVID-19 virus. On World Autism Awareness Day, let us stand together, support each other and show solidarity with persons with autism.

—  António Guterres

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