On Wednesday, April 6, Autism Speaks joined the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the U.N. and the U.N. Department of Public Information at the United Nations to present Solving the Autism Public Health Puzzle: Regional and International Collaboration, a panel discussion on autism. The United States Mission to the U.N. also co-sponsored the event, which was streamed live on the U.N. website. (Watch archived video of the whole event here or view it below).
United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon opened the event talking about the U.N.’s commitment to raising autism awareness and creating greater acceptance. “This day is a call to action for all of us who want a more compassionate and inclusive world,” said the Secretary-General. “We have to raise funds to turn workable solutions into practical actions.”
He was followed by Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations and Mr. Fredrick D. Barton, U.S. Representative to the Economic and Social Council of the U.N. Suzanne and Bob Wright also addressed the several hundred dignitaries and families affected by autism in attendance. They updated the audience on Autism Speaks successful Light It Up Blue Campaign, where 1400 buildings turned blue in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day. A video recapping all of the Light It Up Blue activities ran just before the Wrights’ presentation. Suzanne Wright commented on a new collaboration with the U.N. “Through these kinds of meetings, we are making tremendous headway to increased awareness. This translates to innovative research, improved services and better treatments for families.”
The international coalition in attendance represented a wide array of countries. The participation of the some of the world’s top dignitaries demonstrated a striking endorsement of global efforts to raise autism awareness. Members of the audience, which included Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the U.N. Secretary-General, took part in an interactive panel discussion on autism moderated by Russ Mitchell, CBS Weekend Evening News and CBS Saturday Early Show Anchor. Panelists included Professor Saima Wazed Hossain, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Autism in Bangladesh; Shekhar Saxena, M.D., Director, Mental Health and Substance Abuse, World Health Organization; Amy Gravino, Asperger’s Syndrome College Coach and Self-Advocate and Geri Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer. The panelists discussed an international pathway to raise global awareness and promote research into this non-discriminative disorder. Amy Gravino was particularly poignant sharing her personal struggles with autism, but concluded her story with a message of hope that visibly resounded with audience members, “It is my wish that individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome all across the world will know their own strengths – the skills, the abilities and things they’re capable of, rather than the things they’re not capable of.”
The event was an amazing show of support for the global autism community and a promise of a longstanding partnership.