Thank you, dear Alya.
Excellencies, ASG Maria-Francesca, Distinguished Panelists, Mr. Andy Shih, Dear Friends and Colleagues – good morning and on behalf of all co-sponsors, I join Amb. Alya Al-Thani, to extend a very warm welcome to our event today marking World Autism Day.
We are very pleased to have an outstanding panel of experts with us today; and we are looking forward to a rich and productive discussion today.
I thank our colleagues from Brazil, Kuwait, Poland and the Republic of Korea, DESA and Autism Speaks for cosponsoring today’s event.
[Excellencies] We are here to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on one of the most vulnerable and challenged segments of our society, i.e., children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Children and persons with autism react differently to changes as they tend to thrive on consistency, structure, and routine. Unfortunately, such an environment is seriously compromised due to the pandemic.
The education system as a whole has suffered severely in this pandemic. According to UNICEF, up to 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures. Although many societies tried to adapt to the situation by introducing virtual learning, only 33 per cent of children and young people globally have internet access. This digital divide exacerbates the vulnerabilities of children with autism, especially those living in poverty.
In Bangladesh, we have put in place strong legislations and programmes to protect people with disabilities and neuro development disorders. And this includes support and learning centres across the country, and other referral services, including disability inclusive e-services. Raising general awareness and mainstreaming the needs of this group of children and individuals with special care is a key priority for us. And this commitment and leadership comes from the top, from my Prime Minister.
We are very pleased today to have the chairperson of our National Advisory Committee on Neuro Developmental Disorders and Autism, Ms. Saima Wazed, on the panel today, and we look forward to hearing from her.
[Excellencies, Distinguished Guests] As we strive to recover better, we must consolidate our efforts at the global level to promote and protect the rights, to support efforts at the national level for the wellbeing of people with autism. We must ensure their full inclusion in every aspect of our societies. There’s certainly, much more that needs to be done, as we realized during this pandemic.
I would like to briefly highlight a couple of points:
- [First] We need more investment for research and development of new technologies to support individuals with autism disorder, especially during the pandemic.
- [Secondly] We must bridge the digital divide, so that technologies could be made available to, and accessible by all, regardless of their social or economic status. We need to explore means to help children with autism learn and develop skills without any disruption, including by making available assistive devices and online based therapies. The pandemic has made us realize the critical need for access to such technologies.
- [Finally] We need to use every possible means to raise awareness on the needs and rights of persons with autism, and ensure their access to decent work on an equal basis, and all other opportunities, so that no one is left behind. Relevant international normative instruments need to be strengthened to support national efforts in this regard.
Let us work together to come up with innovative solutions to better integrate people with disabilities into our communities. They are our families, our loved ones, and equal members of our society, entitled to ever right that we all enjoy.
I thank you.