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Major UN Conference Proclaims Inclusive International Cooperation Key to Solving Autism Puzzle

United Nations Secretary-General H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon; H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly; H.E. Ms. Susan E. Rice, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN; and H.E. Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Permanent Mission of Bangladesh, speak at celebration of World Autism Awareness Day

NEW YORK, N.Y. (April 4, 2012) Yesterday more than 300 dignitaries, researchers, parent advocates, and educators gathered at the United Nations for an event jointly sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh, the United States Mission to the UN, the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar, and Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. The event was convened to celebrate the 5th UN-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) and further international alliances to effectively address the global public health crisis of autism spectrum disorders.

The event featured remarks by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President of the UN General Assembly Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN Ambassador A.K. Abdul Momen, Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the UN Ambassador Sheikh Meshal Hamad M.J. Al-Thani, and Co-Founders of Autism Speaks Suzanne and Bob Wright.

The Secretary-General sent a poignant and encouraging message to all individuals with autism, saying “[Here at the United Nations] our hearts are with you in this cause. We will continue to work to ensure that all people on the autism spectrum can lead their lives with dignity.”

Remarks were followed by a PSA especially taped for WAAD by the Secretary-General that shared the individual stories of several people on the autism spectrum whose family members work at the United Nations. The Secretary-General also recognized a group of artists with autism present in the audience. These artists were the winners of a worldwide contest to design Autism Awareness Stamps, created through a partnership between Autism Speaks and the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA). The artists hail from several different countries, and the youngest artist is seven years old. The stamps can be purchased here: http://unstamps.un.org/.

Ambassador Susan Rice commented on the alarming new statistics on the prevalence of autism in the United States released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) last week, which found that autism is now affecting 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys.

“This is a dramatic change,” Rice said. “We are beginning to better understand the scale of what we’re facing, but still have a lot to learn. Puzzles can often best be solved by partnerships and so it is with autism.”

Christiane Amanpour, award-winning anchor for ABC and CNN, moderated a panel discussion titled Delivering Answers through Inclusive International Collaboration, which discussed ways to increase autism awareness and recognition, service delivery, and research collaboration around the world, highlighted the progress that individual countries have made, and stressed the importance of exploring new partnerships.

“[Autism] is an international crisis. Given the numbers, it’s something that affects all of us, either personally or to a second or third degree,” Amanpour said, opening the panel discussion.

Panelists included Ms. Saima Wazed Hossain, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Autism in Bangladesh and daughter of the country’s Prime Minister; Mr. Michael John Carley, Executive Director of the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership Inc. (GRASP) and of the Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership (ASTEP), who is also a self-advocate; Dr. Shekhar Saxena, M.D., Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization; Dr.. Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks; and Ms. Toni Braxton, six-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and parent of a child with autism.

At the event, Autism Speaks announced that they have designated Toni Braxton as their second Global Autism Ambassador, and Bob and Suzanne Wright presented her with a plaque. The organization presented Yoko Ono with this distinction two years ago, following her creation of an original piece of artwork called “Promise,” composed of 67 puzzle pieces that were auctioned off to raise thousands of dollars for Autism Speaks.

“When Diezel was diagnosed with autism, I didn’t know where to turn… I want to tell parents, I know there are so many days when you feel like you’re by yourself, but I assure you – you are not alone,” Braxton said.

On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed the resolution designating April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in perpetuity starting in 2008. The resolution was introduced to the General Assembly by the Permanent Mission of Qatar, and Ambassador Al-Thani acknowledged Qatar’s commitment to addressing autism in his remarks.

“Autism is an issue of utmost importance to the State of Qatar,” said Al-Thani “… As autism affects more and more children it is important for them to have access to services. We also need to answer the needs of parents and make sure we are providing them with the right tools.”

The resolution encouraged UN Member States to take measures to raise awareness about autism throughout society, to promote early diagnosis and early behavioral intervention and acknowledges the high rate of autism in all regions of the world and the consequent development challenges to long term health care, education, training and intervention programs. The participation of the some of the world’s top dignitaries in today’s event demonstrated an impressive endorsement of global efforts to raise autism awareness and the continued support of the United Nations.

“It is going to take the world to solve the autism puzzle,” Suzanne Wright said. “But we are on our way.”

The event follows the official celebration of WAAD on April 2, when nearly 3,000 of the world’s most recognizable buildings and landmarks in more than 45 countries were lit blue as part of Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue Initiative. Iconic landmarks around the world – including The Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, theEmpire State Building, the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Brazil, Tokyo Tower in Japan, the CN Tower in Canada, and Table Mountain in South Africa – shone in bright blue to celebrate WAAD and kick-off Autism Awareness Month in April. Blue was declared by Autism Speaks as the official color of autism awareness.

Autism is a growing public health crisis that affects approximately 70 million people around the world.

About Autism

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 1000 percent increase in the past 40 years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed over $173 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 95 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org