Autism in UN General Assembly reports / by Erich Kofmel

Many of the special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, or Working Groups) also submit annual reports to the UN General Assembly. Here are some stray observations with regard to autism from reports to the GA that might be useful for self-advocacy at the national level. You decide.

In 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context, submitted a report on "The right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities". It includes this paragraph:

"55. Standards of habitability vary considerably with different impairments and must respond to both the physical and the social dimensions of housing. Persons with disabilities may find it difficult to build habitable homes in informal settlements and face challenges in relation to maintenance and repair. Protection against violence or abuse is also critical to ensuring habitability for persons with disabilities. Physical modifications may be required to ensure habitability, such as sound-proofing of apartments for persons with autism."

In addition, there are a number of references to persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities that might be equally applicable to autistic persons. You can download the report in all six official UN languages from here:

Also in 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities submitted a report to the GA on "Sexual and reproductive health and rights of girls and young women with disabilities", including these findings:

"22. Girls and young women with multiple impairments and those who are deaf, deaf-blind, autistic or have leprosy or an intellectual or psychosocial disability, experience aggravated forms of stigma and discrimination. For example, the pervasive view that girls and young women with intellectual disabilities lack the capacity to understand sexuality and their own bodies, as well as the fear of their relatives of being held responsible for allowing their sexual activity, puts those girls and young women under excessive monitoring and control. [...]

"35. Evidence on sexual and gender-based violence against girls and young women with disabilities is robust. Studies from across the globe show that they are at increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation compared with those without disabilities, and with boys and young men with disabilities. Overall, children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than children without disabilities. However, the risk is consistently higher in the case of deaf, blind and autistic girls, girls with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities and girls with multiple impairments. Belonging to a racial, religious or sexual minority, or being poor, also increases the risk factor for sexual abuse for girls and young women with disabilities. Humanitarian crises and conflict and post-conflict settings generate additional risks of sexual violence and trafficking that affect girls with disabilities."

The report is available here:

While these issues are important, unfortunately there is, despite our written submission during the consultation on this report, no mention of autistic people's concerns regarding new reproductive technologies, such as the prospect of a pre-natal genetic test for autism.

Already in 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health submitted a report on the right to health in early childhood – right to survival and development. It includes a section on children with disabilities that refers to autism and developmental disabilities:

"82. Despite being more vulnerable to health and developmental risks, young children with disabilities are often overlooked in mainstream programmes and services designed to promote health to ensure child development. They also often do not receive the specific support required to meet their needs in accordance with their rights. Children with disabilities and their families are confronted with barriers that include inadequate legislation, policies and services, negative attitudes and a lack of accessible environments. Children with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities and autistic-spectrum conditions, are still suffering from outdated approaches in many countries such as institutionalization and excessive medication.

"83. Early intervention services for children with disabilities should follow a human rights-based approach, including provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Governments should ensure that all young children with disabilities grow up in families and that they and their families receive all necessary services to remove barriers and promote their rights in the same manner that the rights of children without disabilities are promoted. Practices based on institutional care and overuse of biomedical interventions for young children with developmental disabilities should be abandoned as they are outdated and often violate basic rights and freedoms."

During the consultation on this report, we submitted our concerns with regard to early intervention and behaviour modification "therapies", such as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). They do not seem to have been taken into account.