Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the Launch of the Autism Eswatini Website

In celebration of World Autism Awareness Day, the UN Resident Coordinator participated in the launch of Autism Eswatini's website on Thursday, 5th November.

Exc. Hon. Deputy Prime Minister,

Regional Administrator,

Your Excellencies,

Representatives of Government,

Eswatini Autism Chair

Eswatini Autism Director

Parents, brothers and sisters,

UN colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is with utmost pleasure and joy that I join you today as we celebrate the launch of the Autism Eswatini website under the theme: “Promoting Access to Basic Health, Therapeutic & Special Services to persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders”.

On this special day, we are reminded of the great words of the late Maya Angelou; “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” We must remember that it is through our many differences that we can appreciate one another’s uniqueness. It is true in this regard that our wonderful brothers and sisters living with autism are some of the strongest, cleverest, full-of-life and inspiring people in our Kingdom.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disorder, affecting social, communicative, and behavioral skills of persons. Globally, 1 in 160 children live with the disorder. Yet, we gather today to change the narrative on ASD for it breeds children with incredible potential and Nobel Prize-caliber geniuses such as Albert Einstein. Every child with autism can reach their full potential with the correct support to both children and their parents. It is time that we enable and encourage our children living with autism in Eswatini and across the world, to achieve their dreams and change the world.

We can support our beloved children through early childhood intervention. Behavioral treatment, supportive learning environments and skills-training programs for parents and caregivers are essential in reducing communicative difficulties and improving the well-being of children and adults living with ASD.

It is crucial that awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder and life-changing support is prioritized in hospitals, schools and homes, as the number of children with ASD increases globally.

However, we can only empower our children with ASD when working together. This requires the full support of the Government, development and non-traditional partners. Autism Spectrum Disorder requires individual treatment, for each person living with ASD has an entirely unique experience. Basic healthcare, therapeutic and special services, suited to an individual, are paramount to the thriving of all those living with ASD.  

Thus, healthcare practitioners need immediate support with information on autism and training to decipher the best method to communicate with their patients. Each patient requires patience and understanding from their care-givers to minimize the stress and the anxiety inflicted on them.

The tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic has brought immense difficulties to children, their parents, youth and adults living with ASD, for change has been the only constant for many months. Persons with ASD find change extremely stressful, with a global online parent survey, launched in June 2020, finding that one (1) in three (3) children with ASD have presented more frequent or intense behavioral problems during this period. Lockdowns have thus exacerbated their experiences of social isolation and emotional distress.

It is more important than ever before that we stand in solidarity and strength with the many brave children, youth, adults, parents and the families of those living with ASD who  have the right to flourish and grow.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We must ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic does not unravel the global advances made in ensuring the rights of people living with autism,as we seek to recover from COVID-19 and achieve Agenda 2030 within the next ten years.

It is also time for every person to take responsibility and put to a stop to the stigma and discrimination experienced by persons living with ASD.

In the Kingdom of Eswatini, we have an immense journey to travel to ensure the dignity of persons living with ASD. Vital statistics and data are limited, and so are resources and knowledge of ASD within the health sector. Basic health, therapeutic and special services are paramount to the growth of our nation’s children living with ASD.

We look forward to the results of UNFPA’s ongoing, first-of-its-kind survey to establish the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Kingdom of Eswatini. It is with this knowledge, and that provided on Autism Eswatini’s website, that we will begin to empower Emaswati living with ASD.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and commend Autism Eswatini for their incredible determination and great work in enhancing the rights of all those living with ASD in Eswatini. Today marks a fantastic achievement in your journey, for which you must be proud, and that of our nation.

The United Nations continues to stand in solidarity with our partners and all those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Together, through our determination and commitment, will we make a difference in the lives of persons living with ASD; our nation’s gifts and world-changers..

I thank you.

Speech by
Author
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
Resident Coordinator
RCO
Nathalie Ndongo-Seh
UN entities involved in this initiative
RCO
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund