New York

02 April 2015

Secretary-General's remarks on World Autism Awareness Day [as delivered]

Thank you all for being here today. This is a very important gathering and thank you very much for coming to the engagement in helping people with autism. 

I am also delighted to join you with my wife, Yoo Soon-taek, who has made autism awareness a personal cause. I am proud to be one of the champions working for the benefit and well-being of people with autism.  I thank you very much. I am also very pleased to see Governor Markell.  We need some political will and engagement at the highest level of leadership. This really makes a lot of difference. Of course, everybody’s engagement is important. But when it comes from the top with political will, it is always very important.  Thank you for your taking time. [Thank you for coming] such a long way from Delaware. I really appreciate. Welcome to the United Nations.

We are here to call for greater access and work opportunities for persons with autism.  While there has been a good deal of progress, much more needs to be done.

I am hugely encouraged by the growing public awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the improvement in 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.

This year, my wife [Yoo Soon-taek] and I are delighted 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 un-tapped 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 awareness is high, more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed. That is why it is so important for companies to understand their unique and often exceptional skills, and to enable work environments where they can excel.

This requires appropriate vocational training and adequate support alongside a recruitment process that can allow people to successfully integrate into workforces around the world. 

It is encouraging to see that there are forward-thinking businesses that recognize the value that people with autism have to offer. And I’m so pleased to see many of the leaders of these companies represented here today, to share with us their experiences and to help inspire others to benefit from this largely untapped pool of talent.

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, caregivers, families and non-professionals to support the integration of persons with autism into society so that people with autism can realize their full potential.

On World Autism Day, my family extends our solidarity to all those affected.

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.

Thank you all for your engagement and leadership.