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World Autism Awareness Day 2019 – High-level Event

Statement by Ambassador Stefano Stefanile, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, at the High-level Event on “Autism: Nurturing Care Framework and Family Centered Care” on the occasion of the World Autism Awareness Day —

Thank you, Chair,

It is a pleasure to be here and Italy is really pleased to co-sponsor this event.

We fully recognize the merits of Qatar and Bangladesh in promoting the adoption of the two landmark GA Resolutions on this very important issue. And we are also happy to co-sponsor this event together with other five Member States of the United Nations, which is a clear indication of the increasing attention that this important issue is receiving from within the membership.

Let me also acknowledge the role of Autism Speaks, which is an organization actively operating in Italy, in cooperation with our Ministry of Health with tangible and commendable results.

I will touch upon a few points.

Let me start by saying that when it comes to autism, there is little doubt that the first dimension of the challenge is to promote better understanding and greater awareness of what autism is and what it implies, not only for the individuals directly affected but also for their family and their societies.

Some tangible progress has been achieved over the last years and the kind of event we are having right now, like the event we held yesterday in Conference Room 1, certainly help in that respect but clearly it is not enough. There is still much to do and much to be done, throughout the year, not only on the day when we celebrate our commitment to managing autism in an effective and compassionate way and there is a need to constantly raise public awareness and to make autism more and more understood and more and more dealt with in an embracing, supportive and inclusive manner.

The second dimension of reflection and action coincides with the title of this event: providing care to persons on the autism spectrum and to their families. And this objective requires a greater effort, in our opinion, towards social inclusion and a human rights-based approach.

Italy is strongly committed to the promotion of the rights of persons on the autism spectrum, and, more broadly, of persons with mental and intellectual disabilities. Legislative measures, public interventions and also NGO activities in Italy are based on a human-rights approach to mental disabilities and disorders, aimed to guaranteeing that the persons affected are fully involved into their respective societies, allowing them to nurture their passions, to cultivate their skills and, ultimately, rendering them masters of their own future without wanting to change the way they are.

This is the same approach and the underpinning philosophy that brought in 2016 to the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose first draft, in 1987, had been put proudly forward by Italy.

Let me also touch upon what we have been doing in Italy on this issue.

In 2015 the Italian Parliament adopted an important Law – Law n.134 – which focuses on the provision of support, care and assistance to persons on the autism spectrum and their families. This law has translated in, first of all, the elaboration of updated guidelines on the provisions of care, elaborated jointly with associations of families and also with the contribution of persons on the autism spectrum according to the principle “nothing about us without us.”

The second point provided for, in this Law, is the establishment of a dedicated Government fund, which has an annual allocation of 10 million Euros.

The third point is the creation of an inter-ministerial Steering-Committee, which contemplates all the relevant public administrations and civil society organizations, for the coordination and implementation of all interventions in this field.

We also undertook some other initiatives and I will briefly mention them.

Our Ministry of Education provides specific support to the scholastic integration of persons on the autism spectrum through helping schools to purchase assistive technologies devices. Another important Law, more recently adopted in 2016, established dedicated support, including financial one, to persons with mental and intellectual disabilities after the passing away of their closest relatives, which is a way to continue to ensure their autonomy and financial independence.

On the role of NGOs and civil society broadly speaking, in Italy we have a very efficient network of civil society organizations engaged in promoting the rights of persons on the autism spectrum, some of which are well known also here at the UN. They come regularly on different occasions. This is the case, for example, of ‘Teatro Patologico’, which is an association that puts on scene works from the ancient Greek tragedy and they have been here at the UN in 2017. It is also the case of ‘Progetto Filippide’, another Italian association which engages persons on the autism spectrum in a wide range of sports activities and they will be in New York for the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties to the CRPD.

At the international level, including here at the UN, we have to continue to exchange our experiences, share our best practices and devise possible forms of cooperation, knowing that an effective approach to autism nowadays requires certainly further progress in science, but also greater investments in people, infrastructures and processes, as well as, as I tried to point out, a multi-stakeholder and human rights-based approach.

Leaving no one behind – the fundamental principle of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development – imposes on all of us the duty to do our utmost to face this challenge.

I thank you.