My Experience as a Young Person With Autism at the United Nations' World Autism Awareness Day


My name is Tom. I am 16 years old and I have autism. I went to the United Nations’ World Autism Awareness Day 2016 because I wanted to learn more about global issues affecting autism. Being a part of World Autism Day at the United Nations was an excellent experience that changed my perspective about what needs to change in global attitudes toward autism.

The World Autism Day conference of 2016 focused on inclusion and neurodiversity and included speakers from all over the world. The keynote presentation was given by Steve Silberman, the author of “Neuro Tribes.” One of the things that Mr. Silberman said in his keynote was that inclusion “does not mean just inviting people with autism to visit.” Mr. Silberman stated that inclusion is about ensuring we have an equal chance. I felt that this was one of the most important statements made at the conference, because it brought up the point that people with autism need to be included in a meaningful way.

I was sad to hear that many people living with autism outside of the United States are subjected to mistreatment because of negative stereotypes. More than one speaker at the conference spoke about how people with autism are treated inhumanely. It hurt my heart to hear their stories. I wondered how we can change negative attitudes toward autism.

When Thomas Gass, the U.N.’s Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, said during his presentation that “this is a shared vision of humanity,” it came to me. I came to believe that people with autism and their families need to be out in the open about autism. I feel living in the shadows with autism does not help us, because people cannot learn from us. I believe people are afraid of what they don’t understand. If we live in the open with our autism, we might be better understood. That has the power to change negative stereotypes.

My experience as a person with autism at World Autism Awareness Day was a positive one. I believe more people with autism should have an opportunity to be a part of this event.

Tom at World Autism Awareness Day 2016
Tom at World Autism Awareness Day 2016.

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