TODAY -

World Autism Awareness Day 2024
- April 2 -

Dr Yumnam Sana Devi *



Every person in this world is unique in their own way. The diversity of human minds does occur due to the infinite variation in neuro cognitive functioning within our species, thereby leading to various neuro developmental disorders in mankind. These diversities created boundaries between normal and abnormal psycho-social development, which led to stigma, discrimination and isolation of those with any abnormal psychosocial development.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of those abnormal psychosocial development disorders manifesting in the developmental phase of life. It has a diverse group of symptoms, ranging from persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts.

For example, abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; failure to initiate or respond to social interactions. There are typical behaviors like highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus, e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects like the wheels of a toy car, wrapping paper, etc.

It affects all socio-economic classes, boys are more likely than girls in the ratio of 4:1, and the worldwide prevalence rate is 1 in 100 children. The cause is multifactorial, including genetic and environmental factors. The symptom profiles are varied by age, severity of the disorder, the presence of other comorbidities, and the availability of family and social support systems.

Management includes screening of high-risk groups, early diagnosis, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, social skills training, and medications for co-morbidities if present. The types and duration of the intervention program will vary with age, symptom severity, cognitive function, and other associated comorbidities.

The abilities and needs of autistic people vary and can evolve over time. But no detection and intervention timely may lead to lifelong disabilities like not being able to develop meaningful communication, academic failure or under-achievement, social isolation and discrimination due to being unable to make friends or join peer group activities, and even being completely dependent on someone for survival.

In addition, the demands on families providing care and support can be significant. Societal attitudes and the level of support provided by local and national authorities are important factors determining the quality of life of people with autism. So, early detection and providing a timely, appropriate intervention can prevent or reduce all the above challenges, thereby making them an independent person who can live a life with dignity.

However, lack of awareness, acceptance, stigma, and discrimination, limited accessible treatment centers, and a poor social support system, collectively increase social isolation, academic failure, reduced job opportunities and overall reduced quality of life in ASD communities.

World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD): Acknowledging the above challenges for ASD communities, in 2007, the United Nations General Assembly sanctioned April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD). It is an annual event aimed at raising awareness and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It aims to celebrate the diversity and achievements of autistic people and promote their full participation and inclusion in society.

This year marks the 17th annual World Autism Awareness Day . There has been a significant change over the last two decades in focus on the welfare of autistic communities, from simply raising public awareness to promoting acceptance, and now it comes to the appreciation of autistic people and their contributions to society.

The 2024 observance has the theme ”Moving from Surviving to Thriving”. The theme underscores the importance of creating a world where autistic people are not only recognized but also supported and appreciated.

Why there is a need for ‘Moving Beyond Awareness: Towards Acceptance, Appreciation, and Thriving’ is simply acknowledging the existence of autism doesn’t overcome the specific needs and challenges faced by autistic communities.

So, there is a need to identify relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that can be leveraged to support individuals with ASD and create pathways for them to thrive. This shift in focus signifies a crucial step towards a future where thriving is the norm for autistic individuals globally.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Autism: The UN SDGs are a collection of 17 interconnected goals adopted in 2015 by the international community as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. While all 17 goals are relevant to creating an inclusive and equitable world for individuals with ASD, the goals that many countries chose to focus on hold particular significance:

SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being: Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for individuals with ASD.

SDG 5: Gender Equality: Empowering all women and girls, including those with ASD.

SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promoting sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all, including individuals with ASD.

Before concluding let me share the situation in Manipur. There are an increasing number of cases of such disorders in our state, but due to a lack of awareness, ignorance, stigma, and poor acceptance of this problem by society, there is a delay in seeking an appropriate intervention program.

Also, the unavailability of well settled therapy centers with an adequate number of trained therapists made these children receive inadequate intervention thereby increasing the risk of lifelong disabilities. However, recently, a few private centers with trained specialists have opened up in Imphal, which are also not yet fully equipped.

Many children are unable to attend regular school due to a lack of support from school, which may be explained by their inexperience in handling such children. Therefore, it is high time for all sectors to join hands in acknowledging, accepting their diversities and supporting them with kindness, so that we can promote them to live inclusively in our society and enjoy all the freedoms of their lives.

Conclusion

Autism Awareness Day is a time to appreciate differences, promote understanding, and make the world a more inclusive place for those with autism spectrum disorder and their families. These things can be achieved only after collective efforts from all sectors at various levels, i.e health, social welfare, education, NGOs, stakeholders, policymakers and community.

N.B. : Dearly respected parents, please don’t hesitate to seek an assessment of your child whenever you sense some differences compared with peers at any age of life, and do verify the qualification of the therapist before you enroll your child in any kind of therapy for any developmental disorder.


* Dr Yumnam Sana Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is child and adolescent psychiatrist, Manipur Health Services
This article was webcasted on 03 April 2024

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