Mass for Autism Awareness Month

Mass for Autism Awareness Month
Students of St. Joseph School, Somers Point, form a living autism awareness ribbon on April 1.

Students of St. Joseph School, Somers Point, form a living autism awareness ribbon on April 1.

Father Robert Hughes, vicar general, will preside at a diocesan Eucharistic celebration in connection with Autism Awareness Month on Sunday, April 12, 3 p.m., at Holy Family Parish, Sewell.

“The Mass will be adapted to meet the needs of the folks joining us for the celebration,” said Sister of St. Joseph Bonnie McMenamin, co-director of Ministry with the deaf/persons with disabilities, Diocese of Camden.

A reception with light refreshments will follow the Mass.

Other parishes will be observing Autism Awareness Month, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Galloway, that will hold a prayer service April 23, 7 p.m., at the Assumption Church worship site. (To include a child’s photo at the service, contact Patti, cunningham@comcast.net).

In recent months, Pope Francis and a Vatican conference have drawn attention to the needs of people with autism spectrum disorders and their families. The disorders include autism, Asperger’s syndrome and Rett syndrome, which create difficulties for people in the areas of social interaction and communication, though with varying degrees, ranging from mild to debilitating severity.

At a meeting with people with ASD and their families on Nov. 22, 2014, Pope Francis called for breaking down the barrier of “isolation” and the “stigma” that burdens them.

“Everyone should be committed to promoting acceptance, encounter and solidarity through concrete support and by encouraging renewed hope,” the pope said.

The accompaniment of people with autism and their families must not be “anonymous or impersonal,” he stated. Rather, it must involve “listening to the profound needs that arise from the depths of a pathology which, all too often, struggles to be properly diagnosed and accepted without shame or withdrawing into solitude.”

The pope said support networks should extend to include “grandparents, friends, therapists, educators and pastoral workers,” who “can help families overcome the feelings that sometimes arise of inadequacy, uselessness and frustration.”

The pope’s audience coincided with a three-day Vatican conference under the theme “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope.”

Organizers said they hoped the conference would help to raise awareness about ASD, whose incidence has increased in recent years. Worldwide, about one child in every 110 is estimated to have ASD; in the United States, the occurrence is higher. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child in every 68 is diagnosed with an autism-related disorder.

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