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Thursday, April 2, saw 13th annual World Autism Awareness Day

World Austism Awareness Day (WAAD) was first held in 2008, when the United Nations, the previous year, decided to set aside a day to support some 70 million people with autism worldwide. According to the UN website, this day was created in order to help children with autism to transition to adulthood, promote decision-making, education, employment and independent living.

This day and during the month of April, which is World Autism Month, a spotlight will be put on the struggles that people on the spectrum face, share current research, and increase understanding and acceptance. The main goal is to create a kinder and more inclusive world, say organizers.

Dr. Isabel Smith. SUPPLIED

“People vary and there is no average person,” said Dr. Isabel Smith, Dalhousie University Autism Research Center in Nova Scotia, speaking by telephone with the Voice. “Finding opportunities for people with autism, just like anybody else, to have a meaningful, productive, vocation and recreational opportunities and to just be part of the community is very significant.”

In support of this day, people around the world are encouraged to wear blue shirts for the Light it Up In Blue campaign, which is sponsored by Autism Speaks.

Many global landmarks, homes and businesses will switch their white light bulbs for blue ones on this day and throughout the month.

Over the past few years, the Empire State Building (New York), Niagara Falls (Canada), the Great Pyramids (Egypt) and many other landmarks have shone brightly for this cause.

All month long there will be various autism-friendly events and activities around the globe.

Autism Speaks hopes to bring people together and to make 2020 a year of kindness. Additionally, they have set up a #kindnessChallenge.

“It’s a good reminder that kindness goes a long way for everybody and that it’s inclusive. So I think that’s an important message to get across,” said Smith.

“It’s a good reminder that kindness goes a long way for everybody and that it’s inclusive.

From its start in 2017, Autism Speaks has been working on its Three-Year Strategic Plan for Science. Their main goals are: seeking the causes and types of autism, lowering the average age of diagnosis to under two years old, expanding services, and enhancing medical treatment for health conditions associated with autism.

One of the key parts of this plan is early diagnosis. This is important because doctors and families can start focusing on maximizing learning, communicating and social abilities, as well as reducing the medical concerns that come with autism.

Currently, the average age of diagnosis is between two and four. Researchers hope to change that to under two years to be able to help make life-altering developments.

There are many research studies going on in Canada that focus on discovering new ways to improve the lives of those on the spectrum.

Smith explained that one of her main studies at the Autism Research Centre focuses on how health care systems respond to the needs of children with autism and their families.

She shared a story of one of her graduate students, who developed an intervention called “Balance” that teaches healthcare providers how to improve family-centred care for those children. This technique is used in health care facilities in Nova Scotia and throughout Canada.

Smith adds that this was a very positive and beneficial experience for her.

“Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is a matter of justice as well as an investment in our common future,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated on the UN website, “it is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and leaving no one behind.”

The Autism Speaks Organization encourages everyone, this World Autism Awareness Day and always, to choose a kinder and more inclusive world.