Monthly Archives: June 2017

Are we all in this together? Or is it every man (person) for himself?”


The way you answer this question may well determine, your
philosophy on life and whether you see the best or the worst in others.  There is no shortage of problems in today’s world but finding solutions or even paths that might lead to solutions is much more difficult. Some people only look for scapegoats or someone to blame instead of coming up with creative solutions to the problems.

What if you view the world in a different way? What if there is no them? What if there is only us? Does that cause you to think differently, to act differently? Instead of just saying, “I’ll take care of my family and the rest of you are on your own” suppose you
redefine “family” to include everyone? Where does that lead us?

When I studied philosophy, my favorite philosopher was John Stuart Mill who was famous for saying that a person’s actions should be governed by doing what promotes the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

 

In my work with individuals with disabilities I have seen how the us versus them outlook impacts their lives. I have seen many people staring, looking the other way in discomfort and judging them. If the world could just accept people for who they are and make them feel welcome, it would be a better place.

 

Recently I was at the park with a child with Autism who is nine years old. He was in a pram. He does not need the pram for mobility but to feel comfortable and safe in a crowded, busy setting. People were staring wondering why a big boy was in a carriage.  They first assumed he was not able to walk. When we arrived at the park, a more open and comfortable setting, he got out of the pram and began to run around. They began to whisper to each other. They did not know how to include someone who they saw as different from them. A smile goes a long way in making someone feel welcome. Rather than making him feel alone, just a smile would let him know he is valued and included. A smile can make someone’s day. How does it make you feel when people smile at you? 🙂

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World Autism Awareness Day at The United Nations

World Autism Awareness Day

March 31, 201704-02-wautismday

United Nations

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  – Article 1 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This year, I was honored to attend World Autism Awareness Day at the United Nations in New York City.  The theme for the day was “Toward Autonomy and Self-Determination”. The topics ranged from Supported VS. Substitute Decision-Making, The Road to Independent Living, Navigating Relationships, Vocational Training and Employment and The Way Forward: 2030 Agenda and the Commitment to Leave No One Behind. Each panel included speakers from around the world including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Argentina and Poland.  It was fascinating, inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time to hear about progress and challenges facing individuals with Autism around the world.

The person who resonated the most with me that day was the keynote speaker, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge, U.K. Professor Baron-Cohen spoke specifically about Human Rights and where individuals with Autism stand regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which sets out the basic rights and fundamental freedoms that are inherent to all human beings.  There are 30 Articles within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Professor Baron-Cohen chose 6 to focus on and examine in terms of people with Autism. Here is what he had to share…

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Many individuals with Autism are victims of abuse, neglect, manipulation or coercion. Often, these crimes are committed by someone close to, or trusted by the person with Autism.  Due to the social naivety, many individuals with Autism will take what any person says at face value which can result in crime against that person.  Many individuals will stay at home for fear of some type of abuse.

Article 26.

Everyone has the right to education.

Up to 20% of students with Autism are excluded from school for one reason or another.  In addition, many of students who do attend school are bullied which can lead to feelings of rejection, fear and insecurity. This can lead to students dropping out of school or underperforming on exams or work despite capability and intelligence.

Article 21.

Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.

1 in 3 individuals with Autism experiences mental health challenges due to lack of support.  This lack of support in some cases can lead to depression, feelings of exclusion and even suicide.  Many individuals struggle undiagnosed and therefore unsupported.  Most countries do not screen for Autism in the preschool years or even through childhood.  People living in low-income areas may live with no diagnosis for a number of reasons and even those who do get a diagnosis may not receive any follow-up support.  Waiting time for a diagnosis can be up to a year in many areas.  This wait time would be unacceptable for other diagnoses.

Article 23.

Everyone has the right to work.

Only 15% of adults with Autism are in full time employment, despite many having good intelligence and talents.  Employment leads to a feeling of value within your community. Unemployment is another risk factor for depression.  For many, employment discrimination begins at the interview stage where the expectations for eye contact and communication are the very indications of an Autism diagnosis.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure.

There are many situations where people with Autism have been asked to leave a public area like a store or a movie due to their behavior. This would not be tolerated with other diagnoses. ½ of adults with Autism report they feel lonely, 1/3 rarely leave their house and 2/3 report feeling depressed.  1 in 4 adults report that they have no friends.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

1 in 5 people with Autism are stopped and questioned by police officers due to unexpected or non-traditional behavior. 5% of those people are arrested.  2/3 of police officers report that they have had no training in interviewing individuals with Autism.

Baron-Cohen states, “It is clear that just by examining these 6 articles, people with Autism are still falling outside our human rights and therefore face huge barriers towards autonomy and self-determination. “

While Autism awareness is very important, I think this examination of human rights proves that we need to do more. We need to have a call to Autism action. We need to be more accepting, more understanding, more than aware. All people have the right to live their lives to the best of their abilities, however, we need access to our human rights in order to begin.  We all have a role to play. What can you do?