Families, communities mark 6th annual World Autism Awareness Day
Fundraising and awareness-raising events are being held across the globe Tuesday, to mark the sixth annual World Autism Awareness Day.
The UN declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in 2007. Canada officially got on board last year, when the House of Commons passed an act in November making April 2 “World Autism Awareness Day” in this country as well.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and show repetitive behaviours. ASD is associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention, and other health issues including gastrointestinal and sleep-related problems.
The first signs of ASD are often seen in children between 12 and 18 months of age.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, between one in 50 and one in 88 American children has ASD. Without federal monitoring in Canada, there is no equivalent data for this country. But ASD is considered the most common neurological disorder among Canadian children.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that it is important to bring international attention to the disorder to end stigmatization, lack of awareness and inadequate support structures.
"Now is the time to work for a more inclusive society, highlight the talents of affected people and ensure opportunities for them to realize their potential," he said in a statement.
Edmonton MP Mike Lake told Canada AM that Canada still faces “significant challenges” when it comes to supporting children with autism.
“I think globally we’re doing well compared to other countries, but there are significant challenges. It depends on which province you’re in,” he said, noting that the provinces are responsible for providing treatment, education and social services for autistic children.
Lake, whose 17-year-old son Jaden has autism, said families can be on waiting lists for an autism diagnosis for two years in some provinces, with even longer wait times for services and treatments.
“Certainly we’re getting better, but there are significant challenges from province to province depending on where you live,” he said.
Lake said there are promising developments in vocation training, where companies work with autism organizations to discover what an individual with autism is good at and then places them in appropriate careers.
He said Jaden loves anything that has to do with numbers and order, enjoys cooking and has a job at the library.
“So there are lots and lots of opportunities for people with developmental disabilities across the board, not just autism, to really contribute in those types of ways,” he said.
Lake advises families who have a child with autism to not lose hope during the initial, early challenges.
“What I would say to new parents who have just had their kids diagnosed for the first time, is that it’s not nearly as overwhelming as it might seem,” he said.
To mark World Autism Awareness Day this year, a number of notable landmarks including the Empire State building in the U.S. will be lit up in blue lights as part of the AutismSpeaks “Light it up blue” campaign.
Other landmarks that have been bathed in blue in the past include the pyramids in Egypt and the Opera House in Sydney, Australia. Sporting venues, museums, concert halls, schools and organizations also participate in the event.
Last year, reports released by the National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of children being diagnosed with autism has increased in at least three Canadian provinces and across the U.S.
While the increase in autism diagnosis is linked in part to wider and improved screening, the CDC warns that doesn’t tell the whole story.
“More people than ever before are being diagnosed with an ASD. It is unclear how much of this increase is due to a broader definition of ASDs and better efforts in diagnosis. However, a true increase in the number of people with an ASD cannot be ruled out,” the CDC says on its website. “We believe the increase in ASD diagnosis is likely due to a combination of these factors.”