Shortly after two of my own children were diagnosed with Autism, I found comfort in these stirring words from Pope St. John Paul II to those participating in the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000:
“The Church, as my venerable Predecessor Paul VI liked to say, is ‘a love that seeks out’. How I would like you all to feel welcomed and embraced in her love! First of all you, dear families: those who have children with disabilities and those who share their experience. I say again to you today that I am close to you. Thank you for the witness you bear by the fidelity, strength and patience of your love.”
Catholics are called to welcome and embrace all people and during the month of April, there is a particular emphasis on people with Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
There is nothing about the physical appearance of a person with Autism that would set them apart from other people. People with Autism may learn, behave, react, and communicate in ways that are different than others. Some people with Autism need very little or no assistance with their daily living; others require substantial supports. The intellectual abilities of people with Autism can range from gifted to profoundly challenged. Autism affects every person differently, even among siblings who both have Autism.
Since there is a range of abilities and needs among people with Autism, we must collaborate with them and their families to determine the best way to include each person with Autism in the life of the Church. This includes not only identifying ways people with Autism can benefit as the recipients or subjects of our ministry, but exploring ways for us to work alongside them as active agents of ministry.
Some parents of children with Autism feel isolated and alone. They can be overwhelmed with the needs of their child and sadly, can feel stigmatized in their communities and families. We will never fully understand the needs and hopes of people with Autism and their families unless we take the time to get close to them. We are called to be a love that seeks out and embraces persons with Autism and their families!
PRAYER FOR AUTISM AWARENESS
God of Mercy, We ask that you strengthen our resolve and inspire us to create places of welcome for persons with Autism and their families.
Help us to be compassionate to parents whose child has just been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Help us to be advocates for and with children and adults who are seeking acceptance and access to education, work, services, and therapies.
Help us to be partners with caregivers and service providers to create a continuum of welcome and support for every person with Autism.
Help us to remember that every person is made in Your image and that every life is worth celebrating.