The United Nations General Assembly in New York has declared Wednesday 2nd April 2008 as the first ever World Autism Awareness Day. This is a historic occasion and the actual idea of having a World Autism Day came from the State of Qatar. Baroness Uddin recently congratulated Qatar in a major debate on autism in the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday 19th March. The highly influential Lady Uddin also created history by being the first Peer to mention the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day in the UK Parliament. The autism debate in London was called for by leading peer Lord Ken Maginnis. Peers from all parties backed the call for a national strategy on autism in the United Kingdom.

The Autism Awareness Campaign UK has been calling for national strategy on autism and a 10 year plan of action on autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the UK to include building autism units in mainstream schools, keeping special schools open, building specialist autism schools, more training on autism for classroom teachers and assistants, further education and higher education opportunities, an autism compact with employers enabling people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome to access the world of work and a debate on autism and the elderly – who will look after them when they grow old?

Campaigners are also calling for a global drive to tackle the serious education and health issues connected with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The United Nations is well placed to take the international agenda on autism forward and the United Nations Secretary-General is in a unique position to connect with world leaders on the subject of autism.He has the influence and political clout to make a difference – particularly for the poor.

The World Bank definition of extreme poverty places people living in poverty as living on less than US$ 1 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day, estimating that in 2001, 1.1 billion people had consumption levels below $1 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day.

There are many families with autism who are living below the poverty line – the Autism Awareness Campaign UK is urging the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN General Assembly to look into issues of poverty and autism. Many children with autism do not have access to a basic education, a fundamental human right. Autism is confused with mental illness – due to issues relationg to culture, children with autism are kept at home, hidden – they do not have the life chances of others in terms of going to school and accessing health care – there are very few specialist speech therapists and many parents and carers have virtually no respite care. Teachers and medical professionals in the Third World need training on autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Autism Centres need to be built – the dissemination of information is vital, so is early intervention.

The UK based Autism Awareness Campaign is now calling on the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to launch a world autism strategy. The task is so huge, campaigners are hoping that the first ever World Autism Awareness Day will focus attention on to the desperate needs of parents, carers, children and adults with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the Third World. UN Agencies such as UNICEF and the UNDP have a key role to play within a world autism strategy so has the UK Government’s DFID. There needs to be partnership working on a massive scale – no one organisation can tackle autism in isolation. The UN must set up a consultation process with autism organisations, parents groups and charities in every country.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon needs to provide leadership and persuade world leaders even in the Third World to take matters relating to autism and Asperger’s Syndrome seriously. Campaigners are asking the UN General Assembly to back the call for a United Nations Conference on Autism in 2009. The United Nations could make a huge difference when it comes to addressing the needs of people with autism around the world.

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