Statement by Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, United States Representative to ECOSOC on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to ECOSOC 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
April 3, 2013


Thank you, Ambassador Momen and thanks to Bangladesh and to you personally for your leadership on this issue. Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honor to join you today event on the sixth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Tens of millions of young people and adults around the world are affected by autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, including nearly one in 88 children in my own country. On World Autism Awareness Day, we recognize the important contributions that individuals with autism make and rededicate ourselves to tackling the barriers to their equal rights and full inclusion in society.

Over the last few decades we have seen a profound shift in the way that we understand autism and other disabilities. Thanks to ground-breaking research of scientists and doctors at institutions around the globe from Dhaka to Dakar, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to the World Health Organization, we know much more about which children are likely to have ASDs, enabling earlier intervention and more and better tailored services, which we know to be crucial. Thanks to the pioneering work of parent organizations and civil society groups like Autism Speaks, we have reduced the stigma associated with autism spectrum disorders, laying the groundwork for children and adults living with ASDs to lead independent, productive, and rewarding lives. Thanks to increasingly comprehensive national legislation, such as the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act in 2011 in this country, we are developing essential tools to ensure that all individuals within the autism spectrum can participate fully in society. And thanks to the path-breaking Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we have an international framework for promoting the equality and inclusion of all persons with disabilities, including individuals with autism.

We welcome today’s opportunity to take stock of progress in implementing the General Assembly’s resolution on ‘Addressing the socioeconomic needs of individuals, families and societies affected by autism spectrum disorders, developmental disorders and associated disabilities.’ The Obama Administration has made disability-inclusive diplomacy a policy priority, and we are gratified to see the rights of persons with disabilities, including those with autism, gaining greater visibility and support throughout the world.

The General Assembly resolution that is the focus of today’s discussions exhorts us to promote each individual’s active and equal participation in society, their integration into their communities, and the full enjoyment of their human rights. The resolution also calls for early interventions, enhanced research and data collection, and equal educational opportunities.

These are all areas to which the United States has devoted major effort, from the work of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the efforts of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services which brings together government agency experts with public representatives in an Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law to ensure services for children with disabilities throughout the nation.

Both national and internationally, we have made concrete progress in recent years, but we have much more to do. We need to continue to deepen our knowledge about autism spectrum disorders and innovative and effective interventions and services. With each new breakthrough in research and treatment, we create more options and opportunities for the individuals and families who have been affected by ASDs around the world. The United States remains dedicated to continuing this progress by expanding investments in autism research, improving public health tracking, and providing early detection and services. We need to redouble our efforts to eliminate stigma, discrimination and exclusion that remain part of the daily lives of some one billion people with disabilities around the world, including individuals with ASDs. These are inexcusably common challenges faced by people with disabilities in every society, and we must all work to remove barriers and develop comprehensive, integrated solutions in the interests of ensuring that all persons with disabilities, and all individuals on the autism spectrum, enjoy the dignity, respect, and equality that everyone in our societies deserves. In that regard, we also look forward to working with colleagues here in New York to make this fall’s high-level meeting a success.

As President Obama has said: “As new policies and bold actions break down old barriers and reshape attitudes, we move closer to a world free of discrimination and full of understanding for our family members and friends living with ASDs.” Today, on World Autism Awareness Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to all persons on the autism spectrum, in America and around the world, and dedicate ourselves to ensuring that they can reach their full potential and lead fully empowered lives.

Thank you.


PRN: 2013/044