I thank you for the opportunity to take part in this meeting to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders. I am pleased to participate, on behalf of the European Union and its Member States, in this important commemorative event, following the designation of April 2nd as World Autism Awareness Day, first in 2008 by resolution 62/139, whereby the General Assembly decided to annually observe this day and invited the international community to raise public awareness of autism.
We have gathered here to reaffirm our will and commitment to work together in the area of awareness-raising of Autism Spectrum Disorders. While awareness is growing, the international community is still learning more about autism, its effects on individuals, families and communities, and the best policy practices in enabling persons with autism full participation in education and as members of society.
The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 sets out a renewed commitment by the European Union and its Member States to improving the social and economic prospects of people with disabilities, including those with autism, to ensure their full and active participation in society.
The European Pact for Mental Health is also in place and as part of this Pact, a Joint Action on Mental Health and Wellbeing was launched in February of this year to organise the exchange of views and to learn from mutual experience. Twenty five member states are involved in this work.
This year the European Commission plans to launch a two-year pilot action on “European Prevalence Protocol for early detection of Autistic Spectrum Disorders in Europe”. The pilot action would be launched in the coming months and would address: 1) the prevalence of autism disorders; 2) early diagnosis; 3) good practice in early intervention; 4) current practices in diagnosis and management; and 5) development of public health plans, building upon the protocols developed by the “European Autism Information System (EAIS)” project, which was implemented between 2006- 2009, co-funded under the EU Health Programme. The European Commission has also co-funded the European Network for Surveillance of Risk Factors on Autism and Cerebral Palsy.
The European Union and its Member States give great importance to the existing United Nations processes on health and disabilities. In particular, the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the realization of the MDGs for persons with disabilities to take place in September of this year provides a key platform for international collaboration to address the needs, rights, and societal contributions of persons with disabilities.
I wish to conclude by emphasizing our strong support for the work of the World Health Organisation and its leadership in health policy and programming, knowing that the Executive Board of the World Health Assembly will take up Autism Spectrum Disorders as a subject in its May session, in Geneva.
And I want to reaffirm our strong commitment to raising awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders and the full realization of the human rights of persons with ASD.