19 September 2022

/United Nations/ UN Adoption of World Autism Awareness Day Reflects Qatar's Strong International Presence /report/

  • Qatar

Doha, September (QNA) - In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day upon a proposal submitted by the State of Qatar to the General Assembly, to raise awareness of autism and improve the quality of life for autistic individuals. According to World Health Organization's (WHO) statistics, one in each 100 children around the world has different disabilities related to brain development which are accompanied by a weak social interaction and communication with others.
On March 26, 2007, UNGA unanimously adopted a proposal by the State of Qatar to declare April 2 of each year as World Autism Awareness Day. The proposal was approved by UNGA in its resolution No. 62/139, which reflects the effective presence of the State of Qatar in the United Nations.
In 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force, thus, a fundamental principle of universal human rights for all was reaffirmed. The convention's purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity, which is a well-established tool to foster a caring and inclusive society that ensures that all children and adults with autism can live full and meaningful lives.
Qatar presented the proposal out of its belief that international days and weeks are an effective tool for educating the public on global issues and mobilizing political will and resources to address them, in addition to its hope to spread awareness and education about the gravity of a condition that has a high rate in all regions around the globe, as failure to understand it has significant impacts on individuals, families, and their local communities.
As a result of the exerted Qatari efforts, the UN resolution encouraged the remaining UN member states to take necessary actions to raise awareness of autism in their societies and to highlight the need to help improve autistic individuals' quality of life, so that they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.
Under the patronage of the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the UN, the missions of Turkey and Poland, the Autism Speaks foundation, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), a virtual event was organized in May 2022 to review and discuss the topic of digital health for children with developmental delays and disabilities, considering that the applications of digital health, artificial intelligence, and machine learning contribute to identifying and assessing the needs of children with developmental delays and disabilities and providing care, support, and intervention after early diagnose of the cases.
In her opening speech to this event, HE Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar to the United Nations Ambassador Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani stressed that one of the State of Qatar's priorities is to support children with developmental delays and disabilities, pointing out that Qatar was among the first countries in the region and the world that ratified in 2008 the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in 2006.
Her Excellency pointed out that the State of Qatar is one of the few countries in the region that has appropriate laws, policies, and institutions to fully respond to the needs of persons with disabilities and promote their full integration into society. Her Excellency elaborated that the research capabilities of HBKU are working to introduce technology innovations such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve learning and attention span of children with autism spectrum disorder. 

In parallel with leading an international mobilization to raise awareness of the dangers of autism, Qatar harnessed all possible means to care for persons with disabilities – including those with autism – at the national level. In April 2017, Qatar launched the Qatar National Autism Plan aiming to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families. The plan includes 44 recommendations for full implementation by 2022, including short-term recommendations accomplished in the first year, while some of the recommendations focus on practical and rehabilitative programs to increase public awareness, facilitate early diagnosis, improve the quality of intervention procedures, service, as well as continuity of care and meaningful development in education and social participation. 
The launch of Qatar National Autism Plan reflects the interest that Qatar attaches to all segments of society, as well as its keenness to ensure that autistic individuals receive sufficient care and attention, provide them with the necessary services, and make sure they receive adequate education and training, in addition to their right in having a normal life. The launch of Qatar National Autism Plan highlights an aspect of Qatar's commitment that people with autism have the right to receive care and support now and in the future, and to have the same opportunities available to others - in a society that accepts them the way they are, which comes in accordance to the implantation of Qatar National Vision 2030 goal that says 'ensuring the continued decent living of its people, generation after another.'
This commitment was reflected in the remarkable progress in achieving the goals of Qatar National Autism Plan, which resulted in integrating persons with autism into school and providing them with health and educational services, bringing the number of centers for people with disabilities in Qatar to around 28 centers providing various services that vary from medical and educational services to counseling and awareness. 
It was also evident in the Cabinet decree No. 26 of 2019 to establish the National Committee for the Affairs of Woman, Children, the Elderly and People with disabilities, whose tasks included monitoring the situation of the rights of people with disabilities in the country -including persons with autism- and ensuring the implementation of supportive policies for them.
Qatar's Planning and Statistics Authorities data shows that the number of people with autism spectrum disorder registered in centers for people with disabilities in Qatar reached up to 1,465 people in 2020, with 599 Qataris (480 males and 119 females), 866 non-Qataris (687 males and 179 females).
In her exclusive remarks to Qatar News Agency (QNA), Director of Doha International Center for people with disabilities Dr. Hala Al Saeed said that the State of Qatar has made remarkable progress in all the goals of the National Autism Plan (2017/2022), pointing out that the fruits of these efforts emerged through the integration of persons with autism in schools, and the provision of all health and educational services to them.
She highlighted the importance of concerted official and public efforts to pay attention to the autism spectrum segment in terms of early intervention, awareness of the problem, and adaptation to it. She added that the number of centers for persons with disabilities reached around 28 centers in the State of Qatar, providing a variety of medical and educational care, counseling, and awareness services, reflecting the interest of Qatar in these individuals.
Dr. Hala Al Saeed pointed out that the autism spectrum is classified into three types: simple, medium, and severe. She added that early intervention effectively contributes to treating simple cases, and lays practical and educational foundations leading to the complete integration of the autism spectrum category in the society. She stressed the need to increase the societal awareness of families in dealing with cases of the autism spectrum, and to overcome issues of ignorance and social stigma.

Qatar's recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities includes the preparations it has taken to receive football fans with disabilities to ensure that the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 will be the most accessible tournament for this category in history. Several World Cup stadiums have been provided with sensory rooms for people with intellectual disabilities, providing an ideal atmosphere suitable for children with autism and neurobehavioral disorders to enjoy the matches in a safe space equipped with all advanced tools and devices. 
Among these facilities is the allocation of a hall at Hamad International Airport (HIA) bearing the name of 'Shafallah Center' to receive fans with disabilities and autism. The hall is equipped with the latest assistive technology and educational and rehabilitation equipment to provide the best travel experience they deserve. This Year, Qatar celebrated World Autism Awareness Day under the slogan of 'Inclusive Quality Education for All' as an expression of its firm belief in the necessity of spreading awareness and education regarding autistic individuals and emphasizing the importance of integrating and empowering them to become a positive addition to the comprehensive development process that the State of Qatar seeks and has approved in Qatar National Vision 2030.
World Autism Awareness Day aims to educate individuals and societies about autism, so that everyone can provide a helping hand to persons with autism and their families, enhance their self-confidence, improve their quality of life, and provide psychological and social support to the autistic person and integrate them into society, in addition to raising awareness of the rights of this segment and spreading awareness of the need to take care of them, and people with special needs in general.
In his message on this year's World Autism Awareness Day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that UN supports the rights of persons with autism to fully participate in society, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
Guterres stressed that the 2030 Agenda represents a commitment to reducing inequality through social, economic and political inclusion for all people, including persons with disabilities. Yet many persons with autism still live in isolation, discriminated against and disconnected from their communities, in institutions or even in their own homes. UN Secretary-General said that "on this World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to an inclusive, equitable and sustainable world for persons with autism." 
Guterres added that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these inequalities through the loss or reduction of services at school, in homes and in the community. We need to ensure that the rights, perspectives and well-being of persons with disabilities, including those with autism, are an integral part of building forward better from the pandemic.
UN Secretary-General stressed that the solution lies in more community-based support systems for persons with autism. "We must also establish inclusive education systems and training programs that enable students with autism to access the educational path of their choice," he said, adding "we must make technology solutions available for persons with autism to live independently in their communities."
Despite the progress made over the past decade towards increasing access to education in general, and for persons with autism in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning, reversing developments and deepening inequality in education.
Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race, or socio-economic status. Autism can be diagnosed at any age and it is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information. Autism is known as a 'spectrum' disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience and reason behind most cases is still unknown.
Although the characteristics can be detected in early childhood, autism is often not diagnosed until long afterwards. World Health Organization (WHO) says that the abilities and needs of people with autism vary and can develop over time, while some can live independently, others have severe disabilities and need lifelong care and support. (QNA)



General, Qatar
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