1 Apr 2012

Vatican's Autism Message

They've never heard of the social mode of disability down at the Vatican. This is a breathtakingly backwards view of autism. Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, get in touch and I'll set you straight on a few things.
Here's his take on autism:
"On the occasion of the Fifth World Autism Day, the Church intends to express her nearness to those who are burdened by the weight of this profound suffering. In large measure still to be explored, autistic spectrum disorders constitute, indeed, for those who are affected by them, a grave alteration of behaviour, of verbal and non-verbal communication, and of social integration, with a wide-ranging effect on the normal development and evolution of the personality."
(Emphasis mine)
WHAT!? Such disdainful, othering language. The problem, Zimowski thinks, are the disordered, abnormal "gravely altered" autistic people.

I wonder if he ever knowingly met an autistic person or did he just ask Tony Humphreys what they're like? If he spent any time connecting with a few autistic people himself, he might realise how wrong he is when he says:
"In this pathological movement of self-envelopment and closure to the other and the external world, the Church sees as impelling the task of placing herself at the side of these people – children and young people in particular – and their families, if not to breakdown these barriers of silence then at least to share in solidarity and prayer in their journey of suffering. Indeed, this suffering, at times, also acquires features of frustration and resignation, not least because of the still scarce therapeutic results. These frustrations are to be seen, in particular, in families which, although they look after these children with loving care, experience repercussions as regards the quality of their own lives, and are often, in their turn, led to be closed up in an isolation that marginalises and wounds."
Such florid nonsense.
This is a 45 year old Bettelheim-era and utterly discredited vision of autism. Autism doesn't mean closure to the outside world. And what barriers of silence is he talking about? I know some autistic people who don't speak but none who are silent. Not all autistic people are children. Not all families with autistic members are closed up, marginalised and wounded.
Zimowski continues:
"The Church and all people of good will thus feel committed to being ‘travelling companions’ with those who live this eloquent silence, which calls upon our sensitivity towards the suffering of others, following the emblematic example portrayed in the gospel parable of the Good Samaritan."
"Eloquent silence". Oh wow.

It's too awful to go through this line by line but here's a selection of words this pillar of the Catholic Church uses to talk about autistic people like my wonderful son. To the archbishop they have:
  • "a pathology which affects more people in numerical terms than could have been imagined only a few years ago"
  • "the gravest and most devastating disability"
  • "a grave psychological disturbance"

And they are:
  • "people with autistic disturbances"
  • "enveloped in the mystery of silence"
  • "a living and transparent sign of the presence of the Resurrected Christ in the world." 
No Archbishop, they are people living with a disability in the same real and right-now world as everyone else. They deserve, like all people to be treated with kindness, respect and decency. They do not require your pity or your depction of them as disturbed and mysterious ciphers. They need to be listened to, understood and accepted. It's not difficult.


Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a nonsense comment form a former friend who thought autistic children had 'unsettled spirits living within them'....class A bo**ox

Sharon McDaid said...

Yes anon, I've heard of that notion before too. Sadly I know of at least 2 cases of autistic children who were killed during exorcisms to release the evil spirits their murderers claimed were making them autistic.