CHURCHES of all denominations are being urged to mark this coming Sunday as an international day of prayer for the 500,000 children and adults in the UK — and the 60 million worldwide — with autism and Asperger syndrome.
Autism Sunday has been observed since 2002, when a service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral. For the organisers, Ivan and Charika Corea, whose 12-year-old son, Chorin, has autism, it represented a welcome from the faith communities, and the acknowledgement of a huge gap in provision.
“Disability isn’t just about putting ramps into church buildings: it’s about bringing real change to the heart of the church,” Mr Corea said on Tuesday.
The cause of children and adults with autism is being championed in the House of Lords by Baroness Udin, who is calling for a UK task force, and in the Commons by Lee Scott MP, who is launching an Autism Bill.
Novels such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, have helped to highlight autism, says the Revd Martin Lloyd Williams, Rector of St Michael’s, Bath, whose book Beauty and Brokenness: Compassion and the Kingdom of God explores the realm of disability. He is Chaplain to Mencap in Bath, and his son has Down syndrome.
He believes that churches ought to be modelling alternative types of community. “We tend to assume, even when we are doing that, that we are just looking after people who have got special needs, while everyone else gets on with the main event.
“But, in reality, the Kingdom of God comes just as much with and among people with learning disabilities as it does among anyone else. And if God’s alternative society is going to reflect these sort of upside-down values, then we need to be finding a home for people with all sorts of difficulties and physical and learning disabilities.”
Mr and Mrs Corea are setting up a charity, the UK Autism Foundation. “Churches and Sunday schools have to change,” says Mr Corea. Those with autism “need a place of peace within a church environment, and it doesn’t cost much, for example, to put in a simple sensory room with a few lights and cushions.
“I’ve written to all the Bishops asking them to speak up on Sunday for those who cannot speak for themselves. That’s what the Bible requires us to do.”