Saturday 2nd April marks World Autism Awareness Day. Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that may be diagnosed during early childhood and sometimes later on in life, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status.
The theme for this year is “Inclusive Education”. This theme is fundamentally linked to last year’s theme, which was “Inclusion in the Workplace”. The aim of having awareness days is to encourage the public to raise awareness and promote the conversation about people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism affects girls and boys of all races and in all geographic regions and has a large impact on children, their families, communities, and societies. Caring for and educating children and young people with this condition also places challenges on health care, education and training programs.
Autism forms part of the Gibraltar National Mental Health Strategy, which was launched in July last year, it was developed through a comprehensive and multi-agency stakeholder, patient and public engagement process with the primary aim being to strengthen the Gibraltar Health Authority and Care Agency system of Mental Health Services.
The Ministry of Equality has been working over the past few years to raise awareness and understanding on Autism through a number different events. Further events were to take place last year, but due to the COVID pandemic, these plans were put on hold. As the situation is improving, it is envisaged that awareness and training events will be planned shortly and these will be announced in due course.
In January this year, it was announced that the old St Martin’s School premises would be handed over to PossAbilities, who will use it to enhance and complement the provision already being given by Government. This will undoubtedly make a significant improvement to the lives of children with Special Educational Needs and their families.
As is customary for World Autism Awareness Day in Gibraltar, Government had planned to have the Moorish Castle lit up with the colourful autism jigsaw puzzle symbols. However, due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the castle will continue to be lit up with the Ukrainian flag’s colours and as a mark of respect, will remain with these colours for the foreseeable future.
Minister for Equality, the Hon. Samantha Sacramento, MP, said: “With the easing of restrictions taking place and normality gradually returning, I am hopeful that we can resume with Autism Awareness events in the near future. These events proved to be very popular with parents as well as with teachers, and a lot of questions were answered by experts in the field. The raising of awareness of Autism is very important for people to understand what Autism is and how this can affect individuals to different degrees.”