On Wednesday, April 02, 2008, the international community will observe the first ever World Autism Awareness Day. This day arose from a Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the recommendation of Qatar. Globally, there are approximately 60 million people with autism. World Autism Awareness Day provides an opportunity for governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), health professionals, researchers, and each of us to raise public awareness of autism and to reach out to those affected by autism, as well as their families and caregivers.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is also referred to as autism, is a neurological disorder which causes developmental disability. It is a complex, lifelong condition that affects individuals from all backgrounds, as well as their families, friends, and caregivers. ASD can be defined by certain behaviours which come in combinations and in degrees of intensity that vary in each individual affected by the condition.
Those with ASDs develop differently from other individuals in the areas of motor, language, cognitive, and social skills. Research has shown that signs of autism are usually present by three years of age and it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls. Some of the common types of characteristics and behaviours in a child or adult with an ASD include: difficulty with social skills problems with communication, repeated behaviours and restricted interests, unusual responses to sensations, and some co-occurring conditions (i.e. gastro-intestinal problems). It is important to remember that each individual with an ASD is unique and has different abilities.
The causes of ASD are still unknown, although there is strong evidence that genetics is a factor. Classic Autism was first recognized in the early 1940s. It has only been recognized as a medical condition in modern times, but there are various historical accounts suggesting that autism existed well before the 20th century. Currently, research is looking at possible causes of autism including genetic influences, pre- and post-natal development, environmental factors, and immune deficiencies.
The Autism Society of Canada estimates that there are approximately 200,000 Canadians living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and that approximately one in every 165 Canadian children born today has an ASD. Such statistics underscore the importance of governments increasing public awareness of ASD.
Health Canada is addressing Autism Spectrum Disorders by: working with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to co-ordinate research and surveillance; supporting Canada’s capacity to address autism through efforts to enhance awareness and knowledge around the condition; supporting Canada’s health researchers in their efforts to better understand optimal treatments for spectrum disorders such as autism and; fostering collaboration between partners and stakeholders to share expertise.
Our Government has also strived to improve autism knowledge and awareness by hosting a National Autism Research Symposium last year, which occurred on November 08-09, 2007. Health Canada is also providing $1 million in support of a National Chair for Autism Research and Intervention at Simon Fraser University. Since 2001, Canadian Institutes for Health Research has invested $26.1 million in autism-related research. Furthermore, the Public Health Agency of Canada is working with partners and stakeholders to examine the feasibility of autism surveillance.
For more information on ASD, please feel free to visit the Autism Society of Canada’s website at www.autismsocietycanada.ca or Health Canada’s website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca. Autism Ontario also has a website which is www.autismontario.com. This organization and its chapters aim to provide information and education, support research, and advocacy for programs and services for the autism community.
By increasing awareness of autism during World Autism Awareness Day, we can all do our part to give support to those with ASD, as well as their families and caregivers.