This morning was the World Autism Conference at the United Nations building. At the event were individuals with Autism, families of individuals with Autism and professionals that work with individuals with Autism and other Developmental Disabilities. April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Autism are names for a group of complex disorders in the brain. Characteristics include difficulty and anxiety around social interactions, delayed verbal and non-verbal communication, hypersensitivity to external stimuli and repetitive behaviors. ASD is sometimes associated with intellectual disability and attention/health issues such as GI problems. Obvious signs of Autism usually are evident at 2/3 years of age. Autism is 4-5 times more likely in boys.
Many people on the Autism Spectrum perform exceptionally in music and academic skills. According to AutismSpeaks.Org, 40% have average to above average intellectual abilities.
One speaker, Alex Plank, is the founder of WrongPlanet.org. Alex is on the Autism Spectrum and founded this website to give people with Autism an opportunity to interact and socialize on the web with other people on the Spectrum. Friendships and relationships have formed as a result of this interactive platform, something that might not have happened otherwise. Many people with Autism have anxiety around socializing, interacting and going out. The Internet allows them to talk to people without having to make eye contact or feel the pressure of responding immediately in a conversation.
Other speakers from around the world, including Bangladesh and Kenya, spoke about the lack of awareness on a ground level as well as on a political/governmental level. In many places around the world, where Autism and other disabilities are things that people are not educated about, the mindset is that these people born with the condition are “defective” or “evil”. Dr. John Maina, Director of Program Research, Evaluation and Development at Boston Higashi School, and also a parent of a child with Autism, said that in his homeland in Kenya, people with Autism are tied to trees because it is unknown what else to do.
There is a major lack of knowledge and awareness on all levels of the abilities and potential of people with Autism. Hewlett Packard has teamed with SAP to allow people with Autism the opportunity to work for them, as they recognized the positive effects of doing so and the great contributions that people with Autism have made to their company. SAP has changed the way they conduct interviews, as face to face interviews can be very challenging for someone with Autism. Instead, they provide trainings and workshops that allow people with Autism to display their talent. Graphic design, IT and Customer Service are some of the jobs currently offered through this program.
One of the closing speakers, Ari Ne’eman, an individual with Autism and also the founder of the Autism Self Advocacy Network, informed viewers that it is preferred to receive a round of “flappause” as opposed to “applause”. “Flappause” is a waving of the hand and this gesture was borrowed by people with Autism from the deaf community, as it is preferred over the loud noise of clapping.