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World Autism Awareness Day … and Inclusive Quality Education for All

World Autism Awareness Day 2022

World Autism Awareness Day … and Inclusive Quality Education for All

Karen Smyth, United Nations in Washington, D.C. 

In 2020, I wrote a blog post reflecting on autism, COVID-19 and transitioning to adulthood in my house.  On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day 2022 (WAAD), I wanted to continue some personal reflections from one UN staff person’s — one parent’s – perspective. After all, every story is different.  Have you heard the saying, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism”?  Those in the autism community know it well. 

After COVID ‘self-contained’ us all for too long, the world – for better or worse – has increasingly been opening up lately… just in time for the splendor of Spring.  What else happens in Spring?  Graduation season!  

That’s right.  My son, Scott, who some of you may recall as the Godzilla loving, school disliking (I can’t make myself use the h*t* word) autistic 19-year-old teen in my life, will be walking at graduation this May.  

I say “walking” instead of graduating because he does not meet the general education criteria, such as participating in certain standardized testing, so he will not receive a diploma.   

He will instead receive one of two “certificates” when he walks and the other after completing the On-Campus Transition Program (OCTP).   

Starting this fall, he will spend the next two years taking college classes, chosen from a small selection of pre-determined electives like health, fitness, and art, at the local community college together with mainstream college students. (With art being his favorite hobby, he overlooked his dislike of school, opting out of the shorter, one-year internship option.) However, technically he will still be a high school student, and continue his annual Individualized Education Plans (IEP), because special education students are expected to stay in the public school system until they are 21 years old, at least where I live, in order to continue services after school.  

Clear as mud, right? Welcome to my world! 

Naturally, you can see why this year’s World Autism Awareness Day theme is again quite fitting for our family: Inclusive Quality Education for All.  United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #4 – Quality Education – includes specific targets surrounding equal access to all levels of quality education and vocational training for persons with disabilities with the overall SDG promise to Leave No One Behind.

[Tune in on 8 April 2022 to learn more about SDG4 at the UN’s virtual event, “Inclusive Quality Education for All”] 

 

In general, Scott’s special education experience has been strong and beneficial. It began at age 3 in an Infants and Toddlers Program (photo above) and will continue until after the on-campus transition program.  

As strong as special education is in the U.S. and especially where I live, I still have some strong feelings about failures and lost opportunities in the system as it pertains to Scott’s educational experience.  That said, there is one thing I would not have changed for anything in this world: the teachers and staff he was blessed to have throughout this journey. They worked with him, fought for him, and compensated where the system lagged. They went above and beyond in so many ways – even after Scott advanced grades – including taking personal time to go to see him perform as an extra in the Middle School’s performance of The Lion King: a gorilla part made just for him because it was the closest thing to his love for King Kong.  Scott’s teachers will be forever in our hearts and in our lives. No blog or photo gives justice to the impact each and every one of them has had on Scott and our whole family. 

Stay tuned for next year… there is already new ground to cover that I hope to share more with you on then.  I wonder if next year’s theme will be as fitting these recent years’ themes have been.
 

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), an international day designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to raise awareness about autism. International days — which predate the establishment of the United Nations but which have been embraced and expanded by the UN — are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. WAAD includes an explanation of how this spectrum disorder is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction. 

 

Karen Smyth
Senior Liaison Assistant
UN Information Center
Washington, D.C.

New Executive Director of UN Women visits Washington ahead of International Women’s Day 

New Executive Director of UN Women visits Washington ahead of International Women’s Day

The rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, gender-responsive pandemic recovery, and women’s economic empowerment were key themes of UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous’ visit to Washington (28 February to 1 March) in advance of International Women’s Day.

Bahous held meetings with leaders on Capitol Hill, including Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) and Lois Frankel (D-Florida). She also met with World Bank President David Malpass and MariElka Pangestu, a managing director at the World Bank, and held other meetings in Washington, DC.

Executive Director Bahous’ visit emphasized UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ message for International Women’s Day.  On March 8, he said in a video message, “We celebrate women and girls everywhere. We celebrate their contributions to ending the COVID-19 pandemic; their ideas, innovations and activism that are changing our world for the better.”

This year’s theme, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” recognizes the contribution of women and girls around the world, and specifically those leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all.

For more: https://www.un.org/en/observances/womens-day

Women around the globe share an immense stake in ending armed violence. Our peace work should reflect that reality.

Women around the globe share an immense stake in ending armed violence. Our peace work should reflect that reality.

By: Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs and H.E. Amb. Selma Ashipala-Musavyi, Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters

The global pandemic is forcing us all to experience degrees of hardship and uncertainty. For those who are also contending with violence—sometimes because of armed conflict raging just outside the home, or sometimes because the violence is in the home—insecurity and suffering can enshroud every hour of every day.

As stay-at-home orders took hold earlier this year, many women and girls around the world found themselves suddenly confined away from view with their abusers, even at gunpoint. Soon thereafter, the UN Secretary-General was reporting signs of a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence”.

Ending the pandemic may bring little relief for these women, particularly in societies ravaged by armed conflict and violence. Left unaddressed, the waves of violence will continue to break against these women steadily.

Women everywhere share an equally immense stake in ending armed violence, and the world should give them every possible tool to counter it in homes, in communities, and around the globe. The horrible virus reigning over our lives only makes this task more urgent.

Twenty years ago, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, the first of several resolutions recognizing and reaffirming women’s significant role in promoting peace and security. Today, we understand better than ever how gender shape individual experiences of conflict and violence, including when weapons are involved. We also now better understand the subtle forces that stifle and drive the systematic exclusion of women’s voices from peacemaking, peacebuilding, conflict and violence prevention efforts.

Yet even 20 years after the Security Council adopted its first resolution on this issue, fundamental gender inequalities remain a fact in all our lives.

Addressing these issues is a top priority for the United Nations’ Secretary-General, who has said that “disarmament prevents and ends violence. Disarmament supports sustainable development. And disarmament is true to our values and principles.”

We believe that governments and organizations can focus their efforts to address the scourge of gender-based violence and remediate gender inequalities rooted in tools of violence. Here are four ways that can allow men and women to contribute equally towards preventing and resolving conflict and building peace and security.

First, all states should adopt arms control and disarmament policies that address how weapons affect men and women differently. For example, civilian men hold most of the estimated 1 billion firearms in global circulation, and a gun in a home makes intimate partner violence against a woman five times likelier to turn lethal.

Second, women should fully participate in professional fields of conflict prevention, peace negotiations, peacebuilding, arms control and disarmament. As women who have dedicated our professional lives to these fields, we each understand all too well what it is like to be the only woman in a crowded room of policymakers. Sadly, the picture at the UN is not particularly encouraging. When diplomats met for last year’s General Assembly committee session on disarmament and international security, three of every four statements came from men. In and beyond the UN, countries should make every effort to ensure that women, youth and other underrepresented groups all have a voice.

Third, governments and international agencies should form diverse alliances with women’s civil society organizations and other non-governmental groups. Women peacebuilders and advocates are transforming communities around the world as they fight the proliferation of weapons. Globally, women’s movements were central to banning atmospheric nuclear tests during the Cold War and to supporting the 2017 nuclear weapons ban treaty, for which the women-led International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons received that year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Fourth, we need more solid evidence in the form of disaggregated data that illuminates the different experiences of women, men, girls and boys with respect to weapons and violence. By collecting this kind of information and sharing practices with each other, governments and organizations can develop better informed responses to peace and security challenges.

In all its chaos, this moment offers a chance to put gender equality at the core of our peace work and build towards a future that benefits us all. Let’s seize this time to bring about real change.

World Autism Awareness Day 2020… and COVID-19

 

World Autism Awareness Day 2020 … and COVID-19
2 April 2020

 

COVID-19 is significantly impacting all of our lives at the moment.   It’s physically pulling us all apart while for most, emotionally bringing us all together.  It is expected that the time will come in the not too distant future that a treatment, cure or vaccine will be successfully developed and tested.

In the meantime, life in my house has not been exactly “normal” these days.   The stress of a long daily commute to and from the office has been replaced by full time telecommuting and “social distancing” with all four family members claustrophobically staying at home as my husband continues his job search with even less leads than when businesses were operating as normal.

We moved my daughter completely out of her university dorm for her sophomore year – a couple months early – and she has been forced to join the world of “distance learning.”  While far from optimal, she is resilient and will adjust and power through.

My almost 18-year-old (high-functioning) autistic son, currently a junior in the local high school’s alternative curriculum (known to some as a special education) class, has had to deviate from his daily routine consisting of classroom structure and a community-based learning schedule of a job training and field trips to local establishments to learn about money and other life skills.  He now must complete his classwork at home, which all too closely resembles dreaded homework that he had been spared from over the years because it was seen by educators as creating excessive stress after an already exhausting day for him.

How has my son handled this transition?  Surprisingly like a champ given how important routines are for those with autism.   He has created his own “new normal”: up by 6 a.m. at the latest (really kid??) to get his classwork out of the way, followed by making his own breakfast – a new (-ish) life skills lesson – and one of two daily hour-long walks with the family dog along the same neighborhood route with lunch in between at 12:00 noon on the dot.

In fact, I think he kind of likes his new normal: he was never a big fan of school, people or work.  He’d much rather stay in his room and make videos about Godzilla, or draw comic books of Godzilla, or watch movies of… Godzilla.  Did I mention my husband’s year-long project so far of actually transforming my son into Godzilla for Comicon later this year (if it still happens)?  It’s true – here he is:

 

The making of Godzilla (a.k.a Scott-zilla)

Today — April 2nd – is World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), an international day designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007 to raise awareness about autism.   International days — which predate the establishment of the United Nations but which have been embraced and expanded by the UN — are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity.

WAAD includes an explanation of how this spectrum disorder is a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction. It emphasizes statistics about how young children are typically diagnosed or that approximately 1 in 54 children, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

Campaigns, like “Light it up Blue,” that spotlight the international designations have resonated over the years, encouraging people to wear light blue or autism awareness t-shirts or the symbolic blue puzzle piece pin.  Global landmarks typically would light up blue and residential porch lights shine blue instead of white (mine is lit – is yours?).  I really hope this tradition is not lost this week to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

More importantly, the designation of the day might suggest ways people can help improve the quality of life for those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.  Learning more about autism is the easiest way to begin to help.

My son wears blue almost every day.  It is his favorite color.   He’s obsessed with blue… and the number three, and did I mention … Godzilla?  None of this has changed for as long as I can remember.  As you will notice, he wore blue when he joined some UN and Autism Speaks staff in Washington, D.C. to mark WAAD in 2018 (second tall young man from left in back row):

Marking World Autism Awareness Day in D.C., April 2018

The UN’s theme for World Autism Awareness Day in 2020 is “The Transition to Adulthood,” a most timely theme for me as today, my morning will begin with a video conference meeting with my son’s team to discuss his Individualized Education Program (IEP) and his transition to life after high school.   This meeting had been originally scheduled to be in person at school, but since school is physically closed for the foreseeable future, we join so many in coming up with creative ways to carry on and focus on those who need extra assistance.

“[T]he breakdown of vital support systems and networks as a result of COVID-19 exacerbates the obstacles that persons with autism face in exercising these rights. We must ensure that a prolonged disruption caused by the emergency does not result in rollbacks of the rights that persons with autism and their representative organizations have worked so hard to advance,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasized in his message marking this year’s World Autism Awareness Day.

While admittedly not as much as many other children on the spectrum need, my son has always needed extra assistance – and always will– but he will do just fine.  We all will.

Meanwhile, if you are one of those who are home for the next few weeks (or longer), please take some time to learn more about autism.

And most importantly, please stay safe and healthy during this trying time.

 

Karen Smyth
Senior Liaison Assistant
UN Information Center
Washington, D.C.

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