Autism awareness breakfast

World Autism Awareness Day falls on 2 April each year, but as that was on a weekend, we held a breakfast to acknowledge it during the week in Parliament.

It was an honour to be asked by Autism New Zealand to host the event, which was well attended by MPs from across the political spectrum.

The keynote speaker was Lachlan McKay – a young man with ASD who is also International Ambassador in Aotearoa-New Zealand for the Council for a World Parliament of Religions, and an Executive Member of the Wellington Inter-faith Council.

Lachlan McKay delivering his keynote speech

In his speech, Lachlan gave us a clear analysis of the need to support people with Autism Spectrum Disorders so that that they can fulfil their potential. Many brilliant people – from Bill Gates to the person in the office next to you – have experienced ASD. The call “don’t judge us until you know us” is a powerful and valuable statement. Lachlan reminded us that all over the world, we are wasting the potential of people with ASD.

Lachlan and I both spoke about a sad incident in Christchurch where Arie Smith, a young man with ASD who responded to the trauma of the earthquake by exercising his hobby of collecting light fittings, was apprehended and allegedly beaten up as a looter. The pictures on the internet certainly suggest a violent assault.

Arie Smith’s case highlights the need for understanding by all of us (particularly people with powers of arrest) that people with ASD might behave in a way we don’t recognise. It is vital that authority figures are alert to this, when 40,000 citizens live with ASD and are entitled to their human rights.

In a recession, with the threat of welfare cutbacks and increased work-testing for people with disabilities, people with autism are getting worried. I have already had people who find staying employed due to their autism very tough coming and expressing great fear about the future.

In this context we will need Autism New Zealand and other groups a to keep autism awareness in front of decision-makers at all times. This breakfast was a good start.

Me and Lachlan after his speech

5 Comments Posted

  1. Thanks for this post and highlighting an amazing but often misunderstood group within our society. It was sad to see on the TV news tonight the plight of an autistic man who was imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit, probably due to the fact he was “different”. I am currently teaching two young boys with autism and while it is important we help provide them with the skills to survive in the real world, we should also celebrate their talents and uniqueness. A little more tolerance of differences would make our communities richer places and i think our perceptions of “normal” need to be expanded.

  2. Great to see you guys out raising autism awareness. Autism is now affecting 1 out of every 100 children in the US. Anything you can do to get the word out about this condition is a step in the right direction.

  3. I have several family members with varying levels of autism – at least two profoundly autistic, which, believe me Johnston, makes them very dependent indeed. Those with Asperger Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism, are often extremely bright but with real difficulty functioning socially. You may not consider this a disability, but if their obsession is not one that society deems ‘useful’ like being brilliant with computers or music, then it is extremely difficult for them to find an employment niche. Any stress or pressure causes emotional meltdown. I am not implying that they cannot gain insight into their own condition or take steps (like memorising appropriate social behaviour for different situations) to improve their ability to function in society – but the variation is huge and each case is different. Do not judge when you don’t know what you are talking about.

  4. Oi! Next you be grizzling about calling it a Disability ‘Benefit’
    Break two necks and have twice the fun!!!

  5. With all due respect, I wonder if having the tag “disability” at the end of this post was really all that appropriate? I personally do not consider autistic people to be disabled, but instead being different to what one would consider “normal”.

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