The Message of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights on the Occasion of World Autism Awareness Day

In these unprecedented times, we must not forget about those people who live with autism and those families who raise children with autism. In fact, in this extraordinary situation, they are the ones who can teach us a lesson about determination, patience and care, and who can show us how to adopt new perspectives. What terrifies us the most is what we do not know enough about, this is why it is important to become acquainted with the unique perspective of people living with autism – Commissioner for Fundamental Rights Dr. Ákos Kozma has pointed out on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day today.

The United Nations declared 2 April as “World Autism Awareness Day” on 18 December 2007 with the purpose of drawing attention to autism spectrum disorders. In its resolution no. 62/139, the General Assembly of the international organisation invited the Member States to make steps in order to raise public awareness to autism as widely as possible in their societies.

It is not easy to celebrate today. It is not easy to celebrate together with those whom we wish to greet. It is not easy to celebrate in a way so that our voice would be heard everywhere. Autism spectrum disorder is not visible and it is not easily identifiable. However, learning about it is essential in all walks of life, from education through health to employment. Today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we all try to isolate ourselves physically, transferring our social interactions into the online space in an effort to protect ourselves and the others. The isolation of people with autism cannot be found in the news – this is why it should be given special attention.

According to the statistics, currently there is nearly one person in every hundred in Hungary who lives with the disability of autism spectrum disorder. This means that there are almost a hundred thousand people who live in such a state, with such a disability, that leads to a different development. These figures do not necessarily reflect the exact number of cases, as we are talking about differences on the boundary of medical science (psychiatry), special education, psychology and the science of disability, which become recognizable through different behavioral patterns in social interactions.

The research on autism conducted by the Ombudsman and his Office 10 years ago was a pioneering initiative, as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities had entered into force in 2007 in Hungary. Since then, the fundamental rights protection work of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has taken a broader view of the lives of people living with disability, including those with autism spectrum disorder. Some of the inquires carried out by the Ombudsman revealed particularly significant problems with regard to the situation of school-age children with different abilities or those functioning well, and the life of people living in residential institutions with more severe autism spectrum disorder is also problematic.

Today both practice and theory see the potential for development in the availability of personalized diagnoses, primarily along the principles of awareness-raising and acceptance. The fundamental rights related principles also promote this alternative, and the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights strives to make these principles manifest in his inquiries.