South-east Asian nations pledge inclusive approach to autism

Kathmandu, April 22

Countries, including Nepal, in the World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region have adopted the ‘Thimphu Declaration’, which calls for integrating the needs of people with autism and other neurodevelopment disorders and their families into national health and socioeconomic development plans.

The declaration, adopted at the end of the three-day International Conference on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Thimpu of Bhutan yesterday, stresses whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach to these issues, with specific attention to strengthening national capacities in the health, education and social care sectors to provide effective services and support to people with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

The declaration welcomed WHO South-East Asia Region’s strategy on autism and called countries in the region to share experiences and best practices, with a focus on the lifespan needs of people with ASD and NDDs. “Inter-country cooperation and partnerships are fundamental to addressing autism in the region. Member countries are already demonstrating how progress can be forged, providing valuable learning opportunities that must be embraced and adapted,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia.

The declaration, a collaborative effort of countries in the region, was facilitated by the existing collaborative framework for autism in South-East Asia. Government at all levels — national, state and local — should work with civil society, including academia, professionals and non-government organisations, as well as the private sector and media to effectively address autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, the declaration said.

It stresses the need to promote social inclusiveness and remove stigma, which are major challenges that individuals and their families face. “Barriers affecting persons with ASD must be identified and removed and legal frameworks supporting the rights of persons with ASD, their families and caregivers must be developed. As part of this, involvement of persons affected by ASD and NDDs is vitally important,” the regional director said in her address to the conference.

The conference, attended by policymakers, academics, professionals, practitioners, advocates and civil society organisations from the 11 member countries of WHO South-East Asia Region and beyond, discussed community based services, inclusive education programmes, employment opportunities, training and rights, and supported independent living in the community.

Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders are life-long disabilities that affect brain functioning, and when left without proper support can cause significant impairment in exercising of an individual’s human rights and fundamental freedoms, said the WHO.