The World Autism Awareness Day is held every year on April 2 since 2007. It is recognized by the United Nations member states as a day to remember the rights of autistic individuals around the world. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously declared the day to advocate the need for persons with autism to be able to lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society. The day was proposed by UN representatives from Qatar. The day is one of the only seven official health-specific days recognized by the UN.
This day aims to make people understand and accept people with autism, foster worldwide support, and inspire people. It is a day that spread kindness and autism awareness.
According to WHO:- The ratio is 1:160 i.e. one in 160 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASDs begin in childhood and tend to persist into adolescence and adulthood. While some people with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support.
World Autism Awareness Day 2021: Theme
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened glaring inequalities around the world, especially when it comes to income and wealth distribution, access to health care, protection under the law, and political inclusion. Persons with autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which have only been further exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a problem made worse by long recognized discriminatory hiring practices and workplace environments that present major obstacles for persons with autism; all of which contribute to the unemployment or severe underemployment of a large majority of adults on the autism spectrum.
Dr Sudip Chowdhury, Consultant Paediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon said, “Autism continues to be a much-misunderstood condition particularly in India where awareness about it is very low. Firstly, any behavioural difference in India is automatically assumed to be a mental health condition. This is also one of the prevalent misconceptions about autism – that is a mental health disability, which it is not.”
In order to address these challenges, the theme of Autism Awareness Day 2021 is Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Kamal Narayan Omer, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council has said, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a host of problems involving the overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical health of a person — in almost all the cases, it is a child who suffers from this common but serious developmental disorder.”
It is estimated that about 1 in 100 children in India under the age of 10 has autism, and about 1 in 8 suffer from at least one neurodevelopmental condition — the estimate for neurodevelopmental conditions is about 10 times higher than the number reported in the Census 2011. According to the Census 2001, 35.3% of Indians fall in the age group of 0 to 14 years, which gives us an idea as to how enormous the disease burden in India is. Parents of children with autism often struggle with a lack of information and infrastructure that can give their children a dignified life.
Mr Narayan Omer remarked that this offers huge scope for corporate organizations with a CSR mandate who can channelize their CSR budget for interventions that improve the quality of life of people with ASD. The affected population is huge and those who are currently offering help can reach a certain number of them, leaving many more individuals in need of help, a need that corporations can help them meet through their CSR.
CSR initiatives for Persons with Autism in India
Notebook initiates dialogue on awareness, acceptance, and inclusion of autism in Education
Dr Sudip Chowdhury, Consultant Paediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon said, “A major misconception worldwide that has particularly been spread by the anti-vaccination lobby is that excessive use of vaccines is causing an increase in the incidence of autism today. This is a myth that has no medical or scientific explanation. Many people also believe that medical experts today are unnecessary including a larger number of symptoms and behaviours under the autism spectrum, implying that many children are wrongly being diagnosed as ‘autistic’. This is another misconception. Truth is that over time our understanding of the autism disorder has increased and we now know that a wide spectrum of behaviours come under this condition. So, there are mild too severe forms of autism, the former sometimes referred to as ‘high functioning autism’. Another common misconception is that autistic individuals are mentally and intellectually challenged. Autistic people have developmental delays as well as communication issues but many of them go on to acquire education and work across different fields. Similarly, people with autism do not lack emotions or empathetic feelings as often believed. It is just that they express it differently than others. COVID-19 has impacted care for autistic kids across the world. Autistic kids often require special teaching and training facilities. They prefer to stick to regular routines. With social distancing requirements and cutting off of institutional care, the daily routines of autistic kids have been disrupted.”
With an aim to challenge this misconception, Notebook, a mobile-first digital learning product that combines video and text content to deliver best-in-class is hosting a discussion on celebrating the difference & overall inclusivity of those on the autism spectrum enabling them to live full, quality lives through awareness and acceptance.
To reach out to the masses, Notebook is organizing an online panel discussion on the 2nd of April 2021, on the topic ” Inclusivity of individuals on the autism spectrum in the Education system”. Joining Achin Bhattacharyya, Founder and CEO, Notebook on the panel are Vahbiz Mistry, Core Group Member Forum of Autism, Dr Sujata Noronha, Director, Kidstreat Pediatric Development Centre and Christina Prabhakar Vaz, Parent & Autism Advocate.
This special webinar will be the 87th episode of “Together for Education”- a series of webinars for educators and parents that Notebook has been organizing since April 2020 and has been attended by over 50,000 educators so far. This particular episode has been conceptualized with an aim to start conversations around the challenges and opportunities that lie with children on the autism spectrum when it comes to learning and education.
Sharing his views on the same, Achin Bhattacharyya, Founder & CEO, Notebook, said, “We believe the knowledge gap can be bridged with open discussions and dialogue. Having served over 2 Million students now, Notebook has emerged as a leader in the digital education system. Besides growing as a business, we consider it a responsibility to create a positive social impact. Given the phenomenal success of the Together for Education webinar series, we believe it can be a springboard towards the inclusion of differently-abled children into our school education system.”
India Autism Centre by Ratnabali Group
Ratnabali Group has committed to establishing the Indian Autism Centre in Kolkata. The centre is to be built on a 52-acre piece of land. It aspires to be the first of its kind development centre in the world for individuals with autism. The Center will be equipped with residential, day-care and vocational training facilities for its residents and visiting students and aims to be completed by 2022. Equipped with a professional team and many other resources, India Autism Center aims to address everyone’s educational, emotional and social needs and assist them in reaching their full potential by teaching them essential skills needed to live a more independent life.
The statement said, “India Autism Center believes that by ensuring meaningful employment opportunities for an individual on the autism spectrum, she can lead a life of general well-being and self-sustainability. IAC will provide the right kind of support to the individuals, so that most of them are able to strive for excellence in the workplace, no matter what the nature of employment maybe.”
IAC’s program is designed to identify the strengths of these individuals and to empower them with the necessary skills required to be successful and productive members in both their homes and community.
Amazon India’s Internship Program for Individuals with Autism and other intellectual disabilities
In 2019, Amazon announced its partnership with Sol’s ARC, a Non-Government Organization (NGO), to launch an industry-first pilot program to train young adults with Autism & Intellectual Disabilities. The program is aimed at collaborating with Sol’s ARC to build a specialized curriculum for e-commerce trades and create employment opportunities within the e-commerce sector. This will enable their successful integration into the workforce and help them gain financial independence. The pilot would support trainees who have been identified at Sol’s ARC centre. Amazon will work closely with Sol’s ARC to create internship opportunities for them across different parts of its fulfilment network. Through the course of the program, the NGO would also help create awareness among Amazon employees about Autism & Intellectual Disabilities.