The colours of autism

Last Updated on Thursday, 4 May, 2023 at 7:24 pm by Andre Camilleri

The month of April is dedicated to autism and to also promote autism awareness. In fact, last week, I was invited to the book launch Il-Kuluri tal-Awtiżmu a new publication explaining different forms of autism, their causes, as well as the accompanying difficulties.

The publication is well researched and explains in detail, with practical examples, what autistic persons experience. Apparently, this is the only practical guide in our own language. Indeed, autism can lead to social exclusion, and it causes great obstacles. However, looking at the bright side of life, in Malta we have an established autism centre. The Malta Autism Centre is located in Mosta. It includes academics and personnel that specialise in the field of autism with given expertise. Truly, the centre aids individuals with autism, and promotes the principles of independence by teaching autistic persons how to acquire performing skills to become socially included in the community.

Clearly, I was delighted to encounter two academics in the field of autism, Dr Yanika and Dr Melvin Attard. Dr Yanika Attard specialises on the independence of autistic people, specifically on what is hindering individuals from acquiring their functionality to live an independent life and become socially included. On the other hand, Dr Melvin Attard specialises on the training of autism for professionals, including paediatricians, teachers in secondary schools, as well as the police force in Malta.

The Malta Autism Centre is providing a specialised service, and they also offer autism awareness programmes to different schools, as well as the industry primarily to create awareness amongst peers. Certainly, the goal is to help individuals that are receiving a specialised service to improve their social wellbeing and to enhance their quality of life, as well as that of their relatives. Clearly, parents are an important factor in the education of their children. Therefore, they must be supported to achieve a better development of their children’s education.

Needless to say, the Malta Autism Centre requires financial and non-financial resources to deliver the best service to individuals experiencing autism. While I was listening to the academics and also to individuals recounting their experiences, including successful ones, I wondered how difficult it might be to raise funds. Truly, there was great interest in the book launch. The hall was packed, and additional seats were required at the entrance, ending up with serried chairs along the perimeter of the corridor. Sadly, I arrived a little late, and missed the intervention of President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who is also a great supporter of social initiatives. Indeed, when I was posted in Brussels UNICEF Brussels were quite delighted with her presidential work on the theme of missing children.

Undoubtedly, autistic persons are part of our workforce, and we need to support them to live an independent life. Also, we must train autistic individuals to acquire skills whenever possible to excel in their careers and at the place of work. While I was seated listening to the interventions, the concept of sustainability came to mind. Surely, ESG can help companies integrating autistic individuals at the place of work. Under the S of ESG private companies can consider partnering with the Malta Autism Centre to provide financial support as part of their sustainability reporting. Private companies can come together and set-up a fund to support the Malta Autism Centre by providing the necessary financial needs for the training of our future workforce. Besides the upskilling of workers, which the EU is pushing forward, we must ensure that our future workforce does not fall behind. We must promote, as much as possible, the independence of autistic people as part of a holistic national plan.

When I was invited to speak at the Labour Party’s General Conference, I mentioned sustainability and reiterated the importance of training and retraining. The environment and additional green spaces are important in such a limited territory. However, we must do much more to achieve sustainability. Currently, banks are being requested to screen their clients on climate and environmental risks. Nevertheless, the next step is the social part, and presently the ECB is pressuring banks to provide their plans on how they intend to integrate social sustainability when screening their clients. Also, as part of the screening of their clients, banks are being pushed to assess those clients falling under very high-risk sector industries. Very high-risk sectors industries refer to those found in continuous breach of human rights and the exploitation of workers.

Due to reputational risks, various banks might impose an exclusion policy for those industries that are categorised as very high-risk sectors or apply strict monitoring, especially if they are found to employ workers with precarious conditions. However, companies that are a notch lower and falling under high-risk sectors might consider countering their reputational risks by engaging in social projects.

Presently, I am engaging with different stakeholders to discuss the social part under ESG. Those reaching out to me are exploring the idea of integrating additional social elements within their business models. Private companies can for instance partner with centres such as the Malta Autism Centre to aid in the training of our future workforce. Needless to say, private companies might consider readjusting their balance sheets and regularise their workforce before they are forced to do it through their main lenders. Plainly, European governments fell behind in limiting the risk of precarious work and the EU is pushing private companies to regularise workers through the private industry. Needless to say, private companies might be able to counter reputational risks by engaging in partnership programmes that promote the social part under ESG.

Indeed, supporting specialised training centres, as well as workers with different abilities, without using the concept of social washing, is the clearly the present not the future. The governance of private companies must ensure clear verifiable measures, as well as strict internal governance controls to disclose information. The private sector must promote the social wellbeing of their own workforce by applying either international or EU standards to protect human and workers’ rights.

And finally, we must admit that sustainability cannot be achieved if there is no greater emphasis on the social part under ESG.  

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