Card. Peter Turkson, Archive Zenit

Cardinal Turkson's Message for World Autism Awareness Day

‘It’s essential to be by the side, in an active way, of those that are stricken by autism spectrum disorders and their families’

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Here is a Zenit-provided translation of the message that President Peter K.A. Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, sent on the occasion of the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day, observed Monday on the theme:
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The Message
The 11th World Autism Awareness Day coincides this year with the Monday after Easter, called «Monday of the Angel,” in which the proclamation resounds of the Resurrection: “Christ is risen, Alleluia.” On this day, pervaded by paschal joy, the Church makes herself close, to bring Christ’s message of hope to all and, in a particular way, to our dear brothers and sisters with autism spectrum disorders, to their families and to all those who daily take care of them.
According to epidemiological studies, the global prevalence of the number of persons with autism spectrum disorders has increased in the last 50 years. It’s estimated that one child out of 160 is stricken by these disorders.[1] This tendency risks being accentuated, so a greater commitment is requested and new forces to be able to respond, in an adequate way, to this trend, which seems to have assumed an emergency character.
With her works, the Church witnesses her care and solicitude for people with autism spectrum disorders. Present in our communities is a general attitude of acceptance, even if it’s still an effort to practice true inclusion, so that it’s fundamental that our Christian communities are “houses” in which every suffering finds compassion, in which every family, with its burden of pain and effort can feel itself understood and respected in its dignity.”[2]
A special look goes to the families of people with autism spectrum disorders, who deserve great admiration in accepting, with love, the difficult trial of a child stricken by this disorder, gestating and elaborating difficult decisions, by which the entire vital cycle of the family itself is profoundly disturbed[3] and who, despite the difficulties, follow their dear ones with tenderness and perseverance, offering an extraordinary witness of love for the human person.[4]
It’s essential to be by the side, in an active way, of those that are stricken by autism spectrum disorders and their families, on whom weighs an enormous amount of work, sometimes unbearable. May their manifestations of hardship and their appeals for help be heard and transformed into concrete and appropriate actions and activities. All the members of the family must be taken into consideration, not only the parents but also eventual other children, whose development needs the greatest attention and care. How often they feel a sensation of inadequacy, of ineffectiveness and of frustration!
As Pope Francis affirms, “the commitment of all is necessary to promote acceptance, encounter, solidarity, in a concrete endeavour of support and of renewed promotion of hope, contributing in this way to break isolation and, in many cases, also the stigma that weighs on people with autism spectrum disorders, and often also on their families.”[5]
Even if the laws are numerous, at the national and international level, emanated to recognize and help people with autism spectrum disorders, they are still hardly implemented, with the consequence that it’s up to the families to cover, not with a few difficulties, the lacunae and negligence of the institutions and of the system of medical and social services.
Therefore, it’s fundamental to build a solid alliance between the health, socio-health and educational sectors and guarantee the continuity of assistance and care for the whole span of their life. May specialization and integration between the services of the developing age and those of the adult age enable them to receive the appropriate interventions without nullifying the resources utilized.
Therefore, it’s important that Governments, Institutions and the entire social community do their utmost to respond adequately to the needs of people with autism spectrum disorders, learning to understand the different specificities in the course of their life and to offer them the opportunity of social inclusion. Fostered in this way will be the culture of encounter and of solidarity in spite of that of exclusion and waste, which instead relegates them to the margins of society. In fact, people stricken by these disorders are faced daily, not only with the difficulties consequent to their condition but also with many limitations that society itself imposes on them, depriving them of being able to live to the fullest their own possibilities.
I thank the families, the various associations, the parish and ecclesial groups, the socio-health workers, the priests, the consecrated, the volunteers and all those that, in different ways, are committed in the care, assistance and integral promotion of people with autism spectrum disorders.
We entrust all of them and the dear brothers and sisters with autism spectrum disorders to Mary, Mother of tenderness, so that every step of the way suffered, illumined by the light of Easter, inspires each one and the whole human family  to undertake concrete actions of true solidarity and support.
Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson
[Original text: Italian]  [ZENIT’s working translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
[1] Cf. WHO, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Descriptive Note, April 2017.
[2] Francis, Address to the Participants in the Congress for Disabled Persons, June 11, 2016.
[3] Cf. 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Relatio Finalis, October 24, 2015, 21.
[4] Cf. Francis, Message for the 26th World Day of the Sick, February 11, 2018.
[5] Cf. Francis, Address to the participants in the 29th International Conference promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers on the theme ”The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Encourage Hope,” November 22, 2014.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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