Monday, April 2, 2018

A message for the World Day of Autism Awareness

The Prefect of the Dicastery for Inegral Human Development, His Eminence, Cardinal Peter Turkson has published a Message on the occasion of today's observance of the World Day of Autism Awareness.

Message of His Eminence, Cardinal Peter Turkson
for the World Day of Autism Awareness

The XI World Day of Autism Awareness coincides this year with the Monday that follows Easter, known as Angel Monday, on which the proclamation of the Resurrection resounds: Christ is risen, Alleluia.  On this day, filled with Easter joy, the Church is close to you, to bring you a message of hope that the Risen Christ is especially near to our dear brothers and sisters who are affected by the autism spectrum, to their families and to all those who care for them from day to day.

According to epidemiological studies, the prevalence throughout the world of persons on the autism spectrum has grown over the past 50 years; it is estimated that one baby in 160 is diagnosed with this disorder (cf OMS, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Description, April 2017).  This trend is likely to increase, therefore greater commitment and renewed strength is required in order to adequately respond to this tendency which seems to have already assumed the character of an emergency.

The Church, through her works, bears witness to her attention and care for people with autism spectrum disorders.  There is a generally welcoming atmosphere in our communities, even if it is still difficult to practice true inclusion, so it is essential that our Christian communities be 'houses' where every kind of suffering can find compassion, in which every family with its weight of pain and suffering may feel understood and respected in their dignity (Pope Francis, Speech to the participants taking part in the Conference for Disabled Persons, 11 June 2016).

I focus especially on families of those who are living with various autism spectrum disorders, who are worthy of great admiration as they lovingly accept the difficult challenge of a child affected by the disorder, managing and handling difficult decisions, for which the entire life cycle of the family is profoundly affected (cf XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Final Report, 24 October 2015, 21) and, despite these difficulties, follow their loved ones with tenderness and perseverance, offering an extraordinary witness of love for the human person (cf Pope Francis, Message for the XXVI World Day of the Sick, 11 February 2018).

It is essential to be intentionally close to those who are affected by autism spectrum disorders and to their families, upon whom weighs an extreme amount of work, at times unbearable.  Their demonstrations of hardship and their appeals for help should be heard and transformed into concrete and appropriate actions and activities.  All family members should be taken into account, not only parents but also other children whose development requires the greatest attention and care.  How often do they experience feelings of inadequacy, ineffectiveness and frustration!

As Pope Francis affirms: we need the commitment of everyone to promote acceptance, meeting and solidarity in concrete efforts to support and to renew the promotion of hope, thus contributing to breaking the isolation and, in many cases, also the stigmas that weigh on people with autism spectrum disorders, as well as often affects their family members (cf Pope Francis, Speech to participants taking part in the XXIX International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Health Workers on the theme of The person with autism spectrum disorders: to animate hope, 22 November 2014).

Although there are many laws, at national and at international levels, enacted in order to recognize and to facilitate the lives of people with autism spectrum disorders, they are still poorly implemented, with the consequence that there are families have to compensate, sometimes with great difficulties, for the shortcomings and defaults of institutions and systems which provide medical assistance services.

For this reason, it is essential that we build an alliance between health, socio-health and education sectors and ensure continuity of care and assistance for their entire lifetimes.  The specialization and integration between services of the developmental age and those of adulthood help them to receive the appropriate interventions to justify the resources involved.

It is therefore important that Governments, Institutions and entire social communities work together to respond adequately to the needs of persons with autism spectrum disorders, by learning to understand their different specializations throughout their lives and to offer opportunities for social inclusion.  In this way, the culture of encounter and solidarity will be promoted in spite of exclusion and discard, which so often relegates them to the margins of society.  In fact, people suffering from these disorders are confronted every day not only with the difficulties that result from their conditions but also with many limitations that society imposes upon them, depriving them of the ability to live to the limit of their possibilities.

I thank families, various associations, parish and ecclesial groups, socio-health workers, priests, consecrated men and women, volunteers and all those who, in various ways, are committed to caring for and helping to promote people who live with various autism spectrum disorders.

To Mary, the Mother of tenderness, we entrust all of them and our dear brothers and sisters who are affected by autism spectrum disorders, in order that every step of their journey may be illuminated by the light of Easter, inspiring each and every human family to take concrete action toward expressing true solidarity and support.

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson

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