Friday, May 1, 2009

Candlelight Speech by Khalid Rehman

Khalid Rehman
Chair, Advocacy Committee, NAA NY Metro Chapter
A practicing physician and a grandfather of boy with Autism

Thank you for joining us this evening at the first candle lighting ceremony to celebrate the Autism Awareness Month at the steps of the city hall. As you all know, April is designated as the Autism Awareness month all over the world and April 2nd as the International Autism Awareness Day.

I also want to thank the advocacy committee members, particularly Dara Berger, Kim Mack Rosenberg and Lisa Rudley for making this event possible.

I also want to extend appreciation and gratitude to my Councilman Daniel Garodnick and his office staff for helping us organizes the First Annual Autism Awareness event at the City hall.

Autism is an epidemic and the number of children affected by it is ever increasing. Some years ago, the CDC estimated that 1:150 individuals or about 2.3 million individuals are affected by Autism. We are sure that the number has now increased since that estimate is at least 5 years old.

Autism is a major health care problem that has serious social, health related, financial and emotional impact it has on the lives of millions of such families. Yet not many people know about this.

Let me use HIV-AIDS as an example. Almost everyone has heard about HIV AIDS. Almost every day some prominent elected official, current and past United States Presidents, Senators, actors and celebrities tell us about HIV AIDS and its deadly impact on our society. The CDC estimated that there were 468,000 individuals with HIV AIDS in the USA in 2007.

We all know that HIV AIDs is a serious public health issue. On Monday 20th April 2009, The New York Times devoted its Editorial space to HIV AIDS and called it “A Real Problem”.

Now let me ask you! How many elected officials and celebrities that you know are talking about Autism? How many people are raising the concerns about an epidemic that affects 2.3 million people? That is 5 times as many as HIV AIDS.? Not many. That is why we are having this event. We need to increase the awareness about this epidemic that is threatening one in every 150 children and 1 in every 90 young boys in the world.

We are loosing a whole generation of children to the Autism disorders. That is 2.3 million children and counting. That is the REAL problem and we need to increase the awareness about that.

The society at large, our elected officials and the educators must recognize that this is a real epidemic and must act together to combat it. We must increase funding for research. We must provide resources for early education and therapies and provide adequate health insurance to care for those affected.

We must clean up the environment. We must remove the toxic substances from our soil, air, food, drugs and vaccines. We must eliminate discrimination towards the disabled. We must eliminate abuse in the residential facilities.

Until a cure is found, we must protect our affected children from harm, offer them the best individualized education and behavioral therapies in order to optimize their best potential. The Advocacy Committee in particular and the New York Metro Chapter of the National Autism Association in general are dedicated and committed to be the voice of these children and speak on their behalf till they are able to speak for themselves.

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