UN World Autism Awareness Day: Embracing Neurodiversity and Increasing Access to Early Diagnosis

Developmental Screening, Cognoa Updates

Posted by Valerie Jenkins on April 17, 2018

The UN held its official commemorations of World Autism Awareness Day on April 5, and we were honored to be the only digital healthcare company to participate in the inspiring conversations. Two core themes were discussed: 1) ways to overcome discrimination of women and girls with Autism, and 2) strategies to create and promote employment opportunities for all people with Autism.

The United Nations declared April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day (PDF) in 2008 to “highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with Autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society.” The overarching goals of the Day underscores Cognoa’s mission: to provide every child with earlier access to behavioral health diagnoses and personalized treatments – so that all children reach their full potential.

During the first half of the day’s program, Julia Bascom, Executive Director of Autistic Self Advocacy Network gave a moving and informative keynote address: Empowering Women and Girls with Autism. Julia highlighted “diagnostic disparities”, systematic inequalities that exist today, where girls and women have less access to diagnosis and receive diagnosis much later in life (30 years of age or later, often after they bring their own children into the world). Julia passionately emphasized how women of all races deserve the same endless possibilities as everyone else. Autism does not change women’s rights to opportunities, possibilities, and freedoms.

IMG_0917 (1)The second part of the day’s program, the Autism Advantage Luncheon, was led in cooperation with Specialisterne, a social enterprise dedicated to neurodiversity employment. Founder Thorkil Sonne started the NPO after his son was diagnosed with Autism. Specialisterne provides enterprises with training and recruitment programs to create employment opportunities for “neurodiverse talent”. We were joined by incredible people and teams from companies including SAP, Microsoft, IBM, Google, JPMorgan Chase, and Standard Chartered Bank, who all clearly recognize the vital roles they play in the aspirations we all share: for all people of neurodiversity to have the best opportunities to reach their full potential.

(Companies play a large role in healthcare decisions and provide health insurance to more than half of all Americans. Cognoa works with companies that demonstrate a commitment to family health by providing them a healthcare benefit they can offer all employees to support the developmental health of their kids).

Some key highlights and takeaways from the Day:

  • Making a concerted effort to recruit neurodiverse talent is a “strategic cultural brand investment” - Caroline Casey, Founder of #Valuable
  • Be your authentic self: we all want  want a job that values how our minds work and what we can uniquely contribute. “I’m paid to be me.” - David Caudeo, Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism Innovation and the Workforce
  • Women of color are diagnosed 1.5 - 2 years later than white males. It is much more likely for girls and women with developmental challenges to go unrecognized and undiagnosed. Many receive  a primary diagnosis later in life of depression or high-anxiety, for instance, when the underlying condition is something else (such as Autism) - Morenike Giwa-Onaiwu, Autism and Race Committee Chair, Autism Women’s Network
  • There is a sex bias in healthcare today. Clinical studies have included fewer  girls and women than men, therefore, many diagnostic criteria are based on studies of male neurology. Increasing  access to diagnosis and knowledge, and advances in digital technologies, will help us see the unseen. **It is worth noting here, that since Cognoa uses an algorithm as part of their assessment, it does not hold an active sex bias when evaluating a female patient. - Dr. Helen Egger, Chair, Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU Langone Medical Center
  • Felicity Home sees 35% of women are diagnosed with Autism after the age of 18. The services and support one can receive is limited, the older one gets. The situation of females with Autism is especially dire. 71% of women they see report a comorbid condition with Autism. 34% of women with Autism have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital at some point in their lives. - Beth Finkelstein, Executive Director, Felicity House
  • Watch Please Stand By, a film that tells the story of  a woman, who is a knitter, a writer, and a dog lover, who happens to be autistic, and her struggles being accepted and recognized for the person she is, not only for the developmental challenge she has.
  • Also watch Keep the Change, a romantic comedy about a boy with Autism. Director Rachel Israel explains, "I like 'Rain Man;' I always have been very moved by it. But it's taken from the brother's perspective. I wanted to make a human portrait that was from the neuroatypical person's perspective, fully flawed and unsanitized.”

What was strikingly clear on this UN Global Autism Awareness Day was the shared consensus and real opportunities we have today: by investing in the developmental health of all children, increasing access to early diagnosis, and building opportunities for all neurodiverse people, we can deliver long-term value through lower healthcare costs, increased productivity, and above all, a higher quality of life, for everyone.