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United Nations Designates April 2 as World Autism Day

Member States should break the “barrier of shame” of people suffering from autism and raise international awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of the brain disorder, which was estimated to affect 35 million people worldwide, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations, urged this afternoon during a Headquarters press conference.

“Qatar shares the concerns of a number of countries about the high rate of autism in children in all regions of the world,” Mr. Al-Nasser said.  His comments come almost a month after the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian) approved a draft resolution, 1 November (see Press Release GA/SHC/3899), introduced by Qatar’s delegation and co-sponsored by 50 Member States, to designate 2 April as World Autism Day. Once the draft resolution is adopted by the General Assembly, as expected, the Day will be observed annually starting in 2008.

Joining the Ambassador today was Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, a United States-based non-governmental organization that works to raise awareness of autism and fund research for its causes, prevention and treatment. “Combating autism is going to require worldwide effort. It is not politically, geographically or economically centred. It is an equal destroyer,” he said.

In the last two and a half years, Autism Speaks spent an estimated $60 million on scientific and medical research, he noted. In the United States, children diagnosed before the age of three and then properly treated had a 50 per cent chance of graduating from public school at an appropriate age level. However, many African-American and Hispanic children, and children from non-English-speaking households, were not diagnosed until age seven.

Suzanne Wright, also co-founder of Autism Speaks, said 1.5 million people had the complex brain disorder in the United States, and a new child was diagnosed with it every 20 minutes. An immediate global response was needed to address the epidemic, she urged.

During the Second Annual International Forum for Children with Special Needs held in Doha in April, Autism Speaks and Qatar’s Shaffalah Centre, which assists disabled children, announced plans to launch an Autism Speaks Programme in Qatar.

Also during the press conference, Jacqueline Aidenbaum Brandt, a mother of a son with autism, shed light on her personal experiences, including the misconception society had of the brain disorder and the concerns of parents of children with autism.  She said people often mistook a child with autism for an unruly or poorly behaved one, blaming the parent instead of the disorder for the child’s behaviour.  Caring for a child with autism was complex, as parents were left to grapple with whether the child would one day be independent, and how he or she would be cared for after the parents had died or were no longer able to do so.






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