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Today, autism affects more than 70 million people worldwide. One in 44 children and one in 45 adults in the United States is reported to be on the spectrum. Each year, more than 70,000 adolescents with autism enter adulthood and age out of school-based services. As they transition, an estimated 85% remain unemployed or underemployed globally.
These eye-opening statistics of increasing prevalence and transition, while a positive sign of progress in awareness and advocacy for early identification and diagnosis, are an even greater recognition of the urgency to address the needs of people with autism and their families.
As the father of an autistic 16-year-old, I can personally attest to the fact that trying to give my son the opportunity to live his best life is a continual—and oftentimes exhausting—journey. Navigating the educational system, paperwork, regulations and health care services are fraught with daily challenges; stops and starts at every turn. It shouldn’t be this hard.
In 2017, I joined the board of Autism Speaks, a non-profit focused on finding solutions for the needs of all people with autism; since 2020, I have served as Chairman of the Board. I have had the honour of working alongside board members who are either autistic themselves or have loved ones on the spectrum, including Autism Speaks’ new CEO Keith Wargo, who brings a unique awareness of the importance and immediacy for change as a dad of an autistic adult. We know the hardships, as well as the triumphs our community has experienced, and we use that knowledge to establish informed goals and priorities. With that in mind, our work at Autism Speaks is focused on strategic priorities to help people with autism, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, from early diagnosis and interventions to successful transition to adulthood, employment and adult services.
With that in mind, our work at Autism Speaks is focused on strategic priorities to help people with autism, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, from early diagnosis and interventions to successful transition to adulthood, employment and adult services.
As someone who has witnessed the crucial link between at-home care and the developmental progress of a child with autism, I’m proud to share that Autism Speaks is connecting families and caregivers to essential skills through the World Health Organization Caregivers Skills Training programme that will be launched on March 31, 2022. This program is particularly impactful in helping children with autism who live in under-resourced communities with limited access to quality care. This evidenced-based initiative has proven to be effective in more than 30 countries, including the United States, improving children’s communication, engagement, positive behaviour and daily living skillssetting the stage for a positive future.
To further ensure children, teens and adults with autism can obtain the critical therapies and services they need to thrive in school and beyond, Autism Speaks has successfully advocated for autism health insurance benefits covering 207 million people nationwide. Evidence shows that early planning is critical to an adolescent’s success in adulthood, so we’ve made our current state advocacy priority to lower the age (from 16 to 14) at which transition to adulthood planning must begin for students with developmental disabilities, including autism.
Evidence shows that early planning is critical to an adolescent’s success in adulthood, so we’ve made our current state advocacy priority to lower the age (from 16 to 14) at which transition to adulthood planning must begin for students with developmental disabilities, including autism.
We’ve also identified the need to mainstream autistic adults into the workforce, especially as the pandemic highlighted neurodiversity as a workforce development strategy and untapped human resource to address economic uncertainties. Autism Speaks launched Workplace Inclusion Now, an integrated employment initiative that brings together job seekers, communities and employers to increase employment opportunities and create a more diverse, inclusive workplace, while addressing workforce shortages and meeting the demands of hypercompetitive markets. Last year alone, Autism Speaks hosted 15 regional employment conferences, reaching more than 4,000 employers and jobseekers. Programmes such as these can lead to inclusive workplaces for people with autism across all different skill levels and abilities.
Also on the Forum Network: From the shopfloor to the Boardroom: Neuro-equality in society and in the workplace by Charlotte Valeur, Chief Executive, Global Governance Group
While many organisations are taking more steps to include different ethnic groups, genders and social backgrounds, people with autism and other developmental disabilities should not be overlooked. The unique traits of autism span all different skill levels and abilities, offering a valuable asset for positions that require a high level of concentration, detailed factual knowledge, repetitive tasks, or technical skills. As a CEO, I can easily see the impact of these talents and perspectives in growing an innovative and diverse workforce.
To support all people with autism in reaching their full potential, we are making a point of recognising the barriers to their success and highlighting the strengths and bright minds of the community. We are all capable of doing better. Businesses and governments have a unique advantage and responsibility to influence service systems in employment, healthcare, behavioural health and community living, and we have made it our mission at Autism Speaks to drive that change forward.
This World Autism Month, I ask that you look at people through a different lens, taking one small step to increasing understanding and acceptance. Go to autismspeaks.org and take the pledge to help create a world where all people can reach their full potential. Show your commitment to being more inclusive of people with developmental disabilities. Then raise your hand and join us in our work to make a positive impact on your workplace, on your community and on people with autism around the world. The time for change is now.
To learn more, read also about some of the key policy approaches and practices used by OECD countries to address students with special education needs in their classrooms:
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