UN Secretary-General Addresses Autism

On April 6 in New York City, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued these remarks to a panel discussion on “Solving the Autism Public Health Puzzle: Regional and International

"I am honored to be here today with all of you. 

My wife and I both feel strongly that autism is a matter of international concern that demands our collective attention.

Before the United Nations created World Autism Awareness Day, a mother Googling “Autism” and “United Nations” would get only two hits: both from the World Health Organization.

Today, thanks to all of you in this room and many others, a parent would get more than 2 million. Thank you very much for that effort.

This Day is a time to remember that we can respond to autism effectively, with the right tools and schools.

This Day is a call to action — for all of us who want a more compassionate and inclusive world.

More and more children and people are being diagnosed with autistic conditions. Autism strikes without discrimination — but people living with autism can suffer intolerable discrimination that must stop.

We have to unite our efforts. We have to share experiences — what works, and what does not work. And we have to raise funds to turn workable solutions into practical actions.

When I think of what is at stake I remember one young woman whose brother has autism. People who didn’t understand his condition would ask: “What is wrong with that child? Why is he acting like that?” Once someone blamed her mother and father, saying: “Why can’t they be better parents?” The girl was so stung by those words, she will never forget them.

Fortunately for all of us, she dealt with this ignorance by organizing gatherings of families dealing with autism. They asked completely different questions. Instead of judging her parents, they wanted to know: “Are you okay? Do you need anything?”

That difference — between blame and support, between judgment and compassion — is what World Autism Awareness Day is all about. Our challenge is to move people from misunderstanding to empathy. This is a movement — a global movement — that goes beyond people with autism and their families. This is a movement to create a better world for all of us.

Thank you very much for your commitment and leadership.”

I confess to being a skeptic and even a cynic when it comes to politicians and political organizations, but I found these words by the UN Secretary-General very moving. Immediately, my life with my sons on the spectrum flashed before my eyes and I saw the many occasions strangers yelled at me for their behavior or called them “brats” to their faces. I refused to quarantine my children, but every outing was fraught with potential peril.

And then there were the teachers every bit as ignorant and even more damaging than the strangers, like the one who threw my one son in the hall for fidgeting and told my other son he’d never amount to anything. And I could never forget the parents of their neurotypical classmates who kept encouraging me to change schools.

There was no summer camp, no "Parents Night Out" at the Science Museum, no
sleepovers and few invitations to birthdays. Autism is a hard and lonely road.

That the leader of the United Nations addressed the heartache each and every family touched by autism feels cannot help but move us to a higher place. It’s my deepest hope that awareness and action is equally distributed across the range of issues that need addressing
— from scientific research and early intervention, to best practices in schools, services and support for families, community support for transitioning into
adulthood and continued resources for adults with autism.

If the hallmark phrase of education reform was “No Child Left Behind,"
let ours be “No Individual With Autism Left Behind."