Each year for World Autism Awareness Day, the group Autism Speaks leads a campaign called Light it Up Blue, which encourages landmarks around the world to shine out blue lights to bring awareness of the cause (Photo: Autism Speaks)
Tomorrow is World Autism Awareness Day, a UN-backed call to action to raise awareness and support for people with autism. It's the second year that Canada has officially recognized the day, after passing the World Autism Awareness Day bill in October, 2012.
In his message on the occasion of the day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:
At this time of economic constraint, governments should continue to invest in services that benefit persons with autism. When we empower them, we benefit current and future generations.
Tragically, in many parts of the world, these individuals are denied their fundamental human rights. They battle discrimination and exclusion. Even in places where their rights are secured, too often they still have to fight for basic services.
Autism spectrum disorder is the term given to a group of conditions caused by disorders of brain development and most commonly characterized by difficulties with social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviours. The word "spectrum" is used to recognize the fact that there are many different ways that autism can present itself, with different people manifesting different symptoms at different severities. The condition is thought to emerge in early brain development, and signs of autism can appear in children as young as two or three.
One puzzle for autism researchers today is the continued rise in prevalence of people living with the condition. Last week, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest figures: 1 in 68 children were identified with having an autism spectrum disorder, with 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. The figures represent a 30 per cent jump from the previous estimate. And the National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada found annual increases of 10-15 per cent in prevalence in this country. It's not clear whether the increases are due to more sensitive testing or a true increase in the number of cases.
Tomorrow evening, many buildings around the world will "Light It Up Blue" in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day, including Toronto's CN Tower and the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
And during the day, another annual tradition will take place: Mike Lake — MP for Edmonton–Mill Woods–Beaumont — will stand up in the House of Commons and deliver an address marking the day. Lake's son Jaden has autism, and over the years, Lake has been an outspoken advocate for parents and children with autism.
"The day is a real opportunity to build awareness, and for families that are living with autism, awareness is particularly important," Lake told Strombo.com. "When your child's having a meltdown in a restaurant or supermarket, there's something really important having people around that have an understanding about what's going on."
Lake said that it's really easy to underestimate people with autism if you don't bother getting to know them. "There is a unique, undiscovered treasure of unique abilities and talent if we only look for them," he said, adding that it's easy to look at someone like his son Jaden as someone who's merely the recipient of help from other people. "But if you just take a few minutes to get to know him, you'll see that he has a lot to give. There's a connectedness to him that is incredibly rare, an honesty that is incredibly rare." Jaden, now 18, has a job cataloguing books at a library, a great fit Lake says for someone who's drawn to structure.
Here's Lake's statement in the House of Commons from last year:
And this story from The National shows Lake and Jaden at a trip to the United Nations in New York to raise awareness:
Over the years, various guests have spoken with George about their experience living with autism. The most notable of these was animal sciences expert and autism advocate Temple Grandin, who was in the red chair in 2011. Here's an extended edition of their conversation:
And when Dan Aykryoyd was in the red chair, he spoke with George about being diagnosed with mild Tourette's syndrome and Asperger's syndrome as a young man, and the connection between the condition and his acting.
Finally, Carly Fleischmann, co-author of Carly's Voice, shared her Defining Moment with us, about how social media changed her life: