Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer speaks at UN event on technology and autism

April 2, 2024
Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Andy Shih

Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Andy Shih gave the opening address at a United Nations event co-hosted by Autism Speaks and the State of Qatar, the global autism community’s steadfast partner.  The event focused on the intersection of health equity and emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning, and explored opportunities to improve the lives of autistic people around the world.

While there’s no denying that in the years to come, technologies like AI and machine learning will fundamentally reshape the inclusion of people with disabilities, including those with autism, access to these increasingly powerful tools is limited in many parts of the world, particularly those experiencing natural disasters or conflict. 

Below is the full text of Dr. Shih’s opening remarks outlining the need for equitable access to new technology as we work as a global community to create a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential. 

Leaving No One Behind: Autism, Emerging Technologies and Equity 

Welcoming Remarks by Dr. Andy Shih 

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen 

Good afternoon! My name is Andy Shih, the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks. It is my honor to welcome you to this prestigious event commemorating World Autism Awareness Day 2024. 

We are grateful to the State of Qatar for organizing and supporting this important gathering to affirm our commitment to leveraging the power of technology for the betterment of people across the autism spectrum. Now more than ever, we are witnessing accelerated growth and evolution of technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning —a shift that has the potential to profoundly impact the daily realities of autistic people and their families around the globe. 

From groundbreaking advancements in eye-tracking that are allowing for early autism detection, to assistive technologies that facilitate greater independence, technology is empowering autistic individuals to live healthier, happier lives. 

Technology has also revolutionized access to educational resources for families and caregivers of people with autism. Online learning platforms like the World Health Organization’s virtual Caregiver Skills Training program, or eCST, developed and implemented with the support of Autism Speaks, offer access to interactive, evidence-based and culturally competent learning experiences that can greatly improve quality of care for autistic children. 

However, even as we embrace the transformative potential of technology, we cannot ignore the glaring disparities in access to these tools among the global autism community. The unfortunate truth is that many countries experience substantial barriers to accessing quality healthcare and innovative technologies that can improve quality of life for autistic people. Humanitarian crises and natural disasters further exacerbate these challenges. 

The event today is a testament to our collective commitment to address these disparities head-on. As we discuss the potential of these technologies, we must also identify strategies to ensure that all people with autism, regardless of their location or socio-economic status, have equal opportunities to benefit from these advancements. Through our discussions today, we hope to catalyze meaningful action and pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable world for people on the spectrum. 

I extend my deepest gratitude to the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar and Her Excellency the Ambassador for their steadfast leadership in enhancing and supporting the wellbeing and outcomes of autistic people and their families. Autism Speaks and the global autism community are fortunate to have a champion like Qatar on our collective journey. Thank you for partnering with Autism Speaks and the community in hosting this vital event. It is only through collaborations like these that we can take steps towards creating a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential. 

Thank you.