The World Autism Awareness Day is held every year on April 2. 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.Also Read - World Autism Day: 4 Myths About Autism Spectrum Disorder That You Should Stop Believing

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. Also Read - When India Reforms, The World Transforms: Top Quotes From PM Modi's UNGA Address 2021

According to World Health Organization, the ratio is 1:160. 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. Also Read - Why PM Modi's Speech at UNGA is Most Awaited Among World Leaders

To spread awareness on World Autism Awareness Day, experts talk about misconceptions, stigma related to the disorder. Ujala Cygnus Hospital, Vision Eye Centre, Paras Hospital, and Columbia Asia Hospital.

Dr Manish Mannan, HOD- Paediatrics & Neonatology, Paras Hospitals Gurugram said, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. It is estimated that worldwide one in 160 children has an ASD. Children with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. They might repeat certain behaviors and might not want change in their daily activities. Many children with ASD also have different ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to things.”

Dr Mannan elaborated on the signs of ASD. He said that it begins during early childhood and that is the time when they should be picked up so that early intervention can be initiated. It can be diagnosed as early as two years of age. Evidence-based psychosocial interventions, such as behavioural treatment and parent skills training programmes, can reduce difficulties in communication and social behaviour, with a positive impact on well-being and quality of life for children with ASD and their caregivers.

“Hence it is very important to get every child assessed by the pediatrician in regular normal routine checkups so that the developmental milestones can be assessed, and any deviation may be picked up early. Worldwide, people with ASD are often subject to stigma, discrimination, and human rights violations. Globally, access to services and support for people with ASD is inadequate. There is a strong need for the society to be sensitive to children and people with ASD and treat them with compassion and care” he added.

Dr. Smita Kapoor Grover, Consultant- Paediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, Vision Eye Centre, New Delhi talked about children who are born with vision problems mostly have traits of autism. “Autism is 10 times more common among blind people as compared to the general population. Therefore, there is a definite association between eyesight and autism. Blind children have been reported to display the same behavioural disorders as autistic children. From weak social skills to impaired verbal communication, engaging in repetitive verbal and motor behavior (echolalia), children who are visually disabled share these characteristics with children who are autistic. Even as development of early vision has a close relation with the evolution of a child as a social individual with adequate emotional and cognitive skills, it is not clearly established whether autistic characteristics in a visually-impaired child are a result of disruption of vision or occur due to specific underlying neuro-developmental conditions.”

In other words, whether these common traits are a consequence of only ocular conditions or are a result of the brain being damaged to some extent can’t be determined with any degree of finality. Yet, that there is a significant overlap in terms of characteristics exhibited by blind and autistic children can’t be denied. Some research suggests that autism is closely tied to specific causes of blindness such as optic nerve hypoplasia, retinopathy of prematurity and anophthalmia. Therefore, while it is important for bind children to be psycho-evaluated for any traits of autism by a trained psychologist, it is equally important for autistic children to have their eyes checked regularly, Dr Smita mentioned.

Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Founder Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals Said, ” Autism Spectrum Disorder–most commonly referred to as just ‘autism’ and sometimes ASD–affects roughly 1 in 100 people. This developmental disorder is often diagnosed in children but some adults can be diagnosed with autism later in life. There are a ton of misconceptions and myths about autism and people with autism out there. These myths about autism can be offensive, harmful, stigmatising or just plain misleading. One common misconception among the myths about autism is that it is a disease. But the truth is Autism is not a disease. Autism cannot be cured with medicine. Autistic people can still live completely independent, meaningful, healthy and productive lives, especially with the aid of therapy and professional intervention. There is also a myth that vaccines also cause autism. Some people think that autistic person cannot feel emotions, and therefore have no interest or ability in fostering relationships with others or making friends. But people with autism are completely capable of feeling all emotions. Due to the fact that autism can impact one’s ability to communicate and socially interact, this is often misinterpreted as being an expression of a lack of interest or inability in making connections and relationships. ”

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? (ASD)?

Kamal Narayan Omer, CEO, Integrated Health and Wellbeing (IHW) Council explains that 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 lack of information and infrastructure that can give their children a dignified life. This offers a 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.