Two United Nations human rights experts today called for an end to discrimination against autistic persons and a celebration of diversity. Speaking ahead of World Autism Awareness Day, the Special Rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar, and on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, noted that about one per cent of the world’s population -some 70 million people- is estimated to be on the autism spectrum worldwide. “As part of human diversity, autistic persons should be embraced, celebrated and respected. However, discrimination against autistic children and adults is more the rule rather than the exception.
In many countries, autistic persons lack access to services which would support, on an equal basis with others, their right to health, education, employment, and living in the community. When available, services are too often far from human rights friendly or evidence-based.
Autistic persons are particularly exposed to professional approaches and medical practices which are unacceptable from a human rights point of view. Such practices – justified many times as treatment or protection measures – violate their basic rights, undermine their dignity, and go against scientific evidence.
Autistic children and adults face the proliferation of medicalized approaches relying on the over-prescription of psychotropic medications, their placement in psychiatric hospitals and long-term care institutions, the use of physical or chemical restraint, electro-impulsive therapy, etc. This may be particularly harmful and lead to the deterioration of their condition. All too often, such practices amount to ill-treatment or torture.
The autism spectrum should be understood from a broader perspective, including in research. We call for caution about enthusiastic attempts to find the causes of autism and ways to ‘cure’ autism through sophisticated but not necessarily ethical research. Autism as a condition is a critical challenge for modern health systems, in which we need to ensure that the practice and science of medicine is never again used to cause the suffering of people.
More investment is needed in services and research into removing societal barriers and misconceptions about autism. Autistics persons should be recognized as the main experts on autism and on their own needs, and funding should be allocated to peer-support projects run by and for autistic persons.
It is about providing individuals and families with the necessary skills and support to have choice and control over their lives. It is also about equal opportunities, access to inclusive education and mainstream employment to achieve equality and rights enjoyment by autistic persons. It is about promoting their independence and respecting their dignity.
Autistic persons should be respected, accepted and valued in our societies, and this can only be achieved by respecting, protecting and fulfilling their basic rights and freedoms.”