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

The past year has been a major challenge for each and every one of us: what we used to consider extraordinary has virtually become the norm. Nevertheless, in these times, we must not forget about those people who live with autism and those families who raise children with autism. What we do not know enough about usually makes us terrified, but learning about new perspectives, including that of people living with autism, can enrich us all. This small change in our attitude can make a big difference for those affected.

On 18 December 2007, the United Nations’ adopted a resolution in which it declared 2 April as “World Autism Awareness Day”. The purpose of the resolution was to draw the world’s attention to autism spectrum disorder. The UN resolution invited the Member States to take steps in order to raise public awareness to autism as widely as possible in their societies.

Autism spectrum disorder is not self-evident, nor is it easy to identify. 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, as we are all trying to isolate ourselves physically, our social interactions have been transferred into the online space. At the same time, the isolation of people with autism does not make the headlines – and this is why it should be given special attention. According to the statistics, today nearly one percent of the Hungarian population lives with autism spectrum disorder. In other words, there are almost a hundred thousand people who live with a disability that results in a different development. The differences in question are at the boundary of medical science (psychiatry), special education, psychology and the science of disability, which become recognisable through different behavioural patterns in social interactions.

The research on autism conducted by the Ombudsman’s Office nearly 10 years ago was a pioneering initiative. It was also at that time that the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities with a firm focus on fundamental rights entered into force in Hungary. Simultaneously, the voice of people living with autism and that of the organisations representing them grew stronger. Several inquiries 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, as well as in respect of the life of people with more severe autism spectrum disorder.

In a recently published report, the Ombudsman found that there is a need for creating a competent, specialised residential institution in Hungary that could look after children with good or outstanding intellectual capacities who, nevertheless, need special care due to their autism spectrum disorder, or those who, in addition to their ASD, live with serious behavioural problems, and are often in a crisis situation. This requires urgent action in order to remedy the specific problems as well as the systemic deficiencies revealed.

The pre-requisite of competency is expertise which could be guaranteed by the setting-up of a special expert group, with the involvement of the relevant professional organisations. Today, both theory and practice see the potential for development in the availability of personalised diagnoses, primarily along the principles of awareness-raising and acceptance.

We must call people’s attention to the fact that it is determination, patience and care that can make the world a more human and better place, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights reminds on World Autism Awareness Day.