Autism Awareness Day Aims to Fight Discrimination, Isolation and Abuse

Today is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), a day to raise awareness about the issue of autism globally and to combat discrimination, isolation, and abuse that people living with the disorder face around the world.

Autism is a developmental disability that usually appears within the first three years of life and effects tens of millions of people worldwide. It is the fastest growing global disorder and is distinct for its impact on the way people with the neurological condition communicate, behave, and develop relationships.

The United Nations estimates that more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with childhood caner, juvenile diabetes or pediatric AIDs combined. The global body also holds that in recent years the number of children impacted by the disorder worldwide has seen an increase from 10 to 17 percent.

"Autism is not limited to a single region or a country, it is a worldwide challenge that requires global action," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the statement about WAAD. "The annual observance of World Autism Awareness Day is meant to spur such action and draw attention to the unacceptable discrimination, abuse and isolation experienced by people with autism and their loved ones."

Those who live with autism face unique challenges socially and often face discrimination or improper treatment due to their disability. Children and adults suffering from autism have been kicked off airplanes, turned away from doctor's and dentist's offices, and have faced mistreatment at the hands of educational institutions and peers.

In fact, a recent survey by the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute found that in the U.S. parents reported that 63 percent of their children who had been diagnosed with autism had faced bullying of some sort. The survey also found that children with autism where three times more likely to face bullying than their siblings who did not have the disorder.

Researchers argue that discrimination and abuse is in large part a factor of lack of awareness.

"These survey results show the urgent need to increase awareness," Dr. Paul Law said in a statement following the release of the report.

The observance of WAAD has occurred annually since 1989, but was adopted by the U.N. in a 2007 General Assembly resolution. The resolution called for a global awareness of the disorder and the participation of all U.N. member states, affiliated organizations, and NGOs to partake in WAAD activities.

This year, the U.N. has made available for purchase autism awareness stamps and also created a video in honor of WAAD, which includes members of the organization's diverse staff speaking about their own experiences with the disorder and the importance of tackling it as a global concern.

"Reaching out to people with autism spectrum disorders requires global political commitment and better international cooperation, especially in sharing good practices," one U.N. staff member shared. "Greater investments in the social, education, and labor sectors are crucially important since developed and developing countries alike still need to improve their capacities to address the unique needs of people with autism and cultivate their many talents."

"As highlighted by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities people with autism are equal citizens who should enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms," another U.N. staff member added.

Observers for WAAD are taking different measures to show support for the awarness-raising day. New York's Empire State Building will be turning on blue lights this evening in support for an initiative that is focused on "shining a light" on the disorder known as "Light It Up Blue," as will other iconic landmarks across the world, including the Paris Stock Exchange, Saudi Arabia's Al Anoud Tower, China's Canton Tower, Hungary's Parliament building, and Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue.