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First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has called for the acceptance, inclusion and equitable opportunities for children living with disabilities especially autism disorder.

She said one of the greatest challenges facing children living with disability in Kenya is that they are still being hidden or denied the right to care, health and education.

“In many instances, parents do not have enough knowledge or funds to support children with disabilities,” she said.

The First Lady spoke at the Blue Box Café within the Tiffany and Company Jewellery Centre in the high-end part of New York during the 10th Annual World Focus on Autism on Tuesday.

“Autism and Sustainable Development Goals; A new Era of opportunities” was the theme of the annual event.

Autism is a pervasive neuro-developmental condition which affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

People with autism may have a difficult time understanding typical social behaviours and challenges engaging with those around them — either by using words or non-verbal communication. The causes of autism are not known.

Most common signs of the disorder include delay or difficulty in learning languages, rapidly repetitive body movements and lack of interest or deficits in developing and maintaining peer appropriate relationships and delayed development of social skills.

Kenyatta said diagnosis of autism is difficult because of scarce facilities for testing the disorder.

“As a result, many young children are being left behind in the realisation of their fundamental rights,” the First Lady said.

She was joined by her counterparts from Cyprus and Serbia, Andri Anastasiades and Tamara Vucic, respectively.

Kenyatta said the prevalence of autism and many other intellectual disabilities has not been well captured in many developing countries including Kenya.

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“Lack of data has made it challenging to quantify the extent of the problem (autism) in Kenya, and I expect this to be the same for many low to middle-income countries.”

She said disability, especially among children, is one of the areas she is committed to as a key intervention for the next five years under the Beyond Zero Foundation’s work.

“I have, therefore, committed, through my Beyond Zero Strategic Framework 2018-2022, to advocate for data collection as an immediate action for children with disability.

Besides data collection over disabled children, the First Lady is also advocating for their registration, integration and facilitation to access health services and social protection.

She said this work has already started through the recently launched medical safaris and camps which offer specialised services to assess affected children.

“We will work with communities to address the cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance and inclusion within individual families and communities,” Kenyatta said.

She said under the new health service delivery medical safari model, Beyond Zero will promote initiatives that support specialised training such as the Skills Training Programme for caregivers of children with developmental disorders.

“It is my hope that we will embrace our special children; that we will love and accept them and that we will let them take their place in the world,” she said

Later, the First Lady joined other first ladies (from across the world) at the Fashion 4 Development’s (F4D) 8th annual luncheon at the Pierre Hotel to celebrate the progress made of positive social change worldwide in support of the UN SDGs.

During the ceremony, F4D Founder Evie Eangelou presided over the presentation of Awards of honour to various top-notch celebrities for their humanitarian work.

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