Autism occurs in both sexes and all races. It is part of the human experience and contributes to the tapestry of human diversity. This year, the United Nations challenges us to celebrate neurodiversity and to ensure that people with autism are included in every aspect of community life. People with autism are excluded in key areas that others take for granted such as:
1. Quality Education
Regardless of where they leave, people with autism face limited access to quality education. My family lives in a big Western city and yet we extremely limited in the choice of schools in which our kids can thrive. In resource-poor countries, they may have no access to education at all.
2. Access to Employment
Many people with autism and other disabilities can and want to work and yet their rate of unemployment and underemployment is consistently higher than for the general population. In developing countries, access to employment is pitiful.
Employers need to understand that by excluding people with autism, they are losing out on a pool of unique talent that could contribute a unique perspective. In the same way that no employer can afford to exclude, women and people of different race, they can’t afford to exclude people with disabilities including autism.
I am hopeful that these few initiatives are only the beginning of a huge tide to follow and when my sons are older, they will have more opportunities available for them
3. Social Activities
It’s true that challenges with social interaction is a hallmark characteristic of autism, but that doesn’t mean that people with autism want to be excluded from ALL social interaction. Some want to do the same things as everyone else including team sports, they just need someone who can take the time to show them the ropes. Others want to socialize in their own way.
In a big Western metropolitan city, it is possible to find any activity or sport that individuals with autism can enjoy participating in. For my boys I have found that they are often very far away and cost two to three times what other people pay. Thus exclusion comes in both the lack of activities and in prohibitive costs.
As we move forward from this year’s world autism awareness day, I hope we can all celebrate neurodiversity and truly include people with autism in every part of our communities, wherever we may be.
“On this World Autism Awareness Day, I call for advancing the rights of individuals with autism and ensuring their full participation and inclusion as valued members of our diverse human family who can contribute to a future of dignity and opportunity for all”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon