By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Today, and throughout the month of April, the world turns blue. People, landmarks, buildings, homes, monuments—even Niagara Falls—are decked in blue as part of the “Light it Up Blue” campaign. This campaign not only wants to raise awareness regarding the difficulties faced by people with autism. It also wants to celebrate the unique talents that they possess so that the world community knows how to embrace and welcome their potential and skills.
Autism’s challenges and gifts
Autism affects approximately 1 percent of the world’s population—that’s about 77 million people. They are our children, siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, grandchildren, classmates, neighbors.
People with autism experience a variety of challenges including difficulties with social skills and communication, and repetitive behavior. Other physical conditions, such as seizures, sleep disorders, stomach problems, hyperactivity, anxiety and fear often accompany autism. Many of them also deal with intellectual disabilities.
Many autistic people also possess traits placing them in the “gifted” category. One high-functioning autistic girl spoke in full sentences at 10 months and could read at 15 months. Some people with autism have incredible memories, or are fascinated with numbers. Others become extremely proficient in one area of interest.
The Church weighs in for the occasion
Pope Francis recalled World Autism Awareness Day in his Regina Coeli address before thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square. “I wish to assure you of a special prayer for World Autism Awareness Day which is celebrated today, he said. And the President of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, Cardinal Peter Turkson released a message for the occasion which corresponds with the Monday after Easter which is still “pervaded by Paschal joy,” he writes. “The Church promises to bring the message of hope in Christ the Risen One to all, and in a particular way, to our dear brothers and sisters with Autism, to their families and to all those who daily care for them.”
UN's theme: Empowering women and girls with autism
The United Nations is recognizing the World Day by hosting an event on 5 April at its headquarters in New York focusing on the theme, “Empowering Women and Girls with Autism.” The UN Secretary General’s message highlights this theme in his message for the event. Women and girls “face multiple challenges including barriers to accessing education and employment on an equal footing with others.” His message continues saying that the UN hopes that no one with autism “is left behind” and that the UN has committed itself to “promote the full participation of all people with autism, and ensure they have the necessary support to be able to exercise their rights and fundamental freedoms.”