The Croatian Union of Associations for Autism organised an event in Zagreb's main square on Friday to mark World Autism Awareness Day, which is observed on April 2, stressing the need to raise awareness of autism and to help people with this condition and their families.

The head of the Union, Lidija Penko, said they expected the government to make good on its promises on opening four diagnosis centres and an early intervention institution, which would facilitate autistic children's inclusion in everyday life.

The ombudswoman for persons with disabilities, Anka Slonjsak, spoke of the difficult status of about 12,000 registered children and adults suffering from autism in Croatia, noting that their actual number was estimated at 40,000.

She said that failure over the years to develop a system of care for people suffering from autism and failure to recognise autism as a category of disability had resulted in their becoming the socially most excluded group of persons with disabilities exposed to serious violations of their rights. "That's why we expect an effective system that will address the educational, social, health and rehabilitation needs of children, young people and adults suffering from autism in Croatia," Slonjsak said.

As a mark of support to all people suffering from autism, especially children, blue balloons were released into the air.

Apart from Zagreb, World Autism Awareness Day is also being observed throughout Croatia, and the government will join in the campaign by lighting up its building in St Mark's Square blue from 8pm until midnight on Friday.

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