Call for understanding in wake of church autism ban

Autism campaigners are urging church leaders and clergymen to understand the complex needs of children and adults with autism and Asperger's Syndtome after a Roman Catholic priest banned a 13-year-old boy with autism from attending service at his church on the grounds of disruptive behaviour.

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder affecting over 60 million people around the world. In the UK there are 500,000 people with autism. According to researchers in the UK, 1 in 100 children are on the spectrum and numbers are rising.

Church leaders believe Adam Race, who is already more than 6 feet tall and weighs more than 225 pounds, to be a danger to other members of the congregation. According to the Associated Press, the Rev Daniel Walz wrote in his petition for the restraining order that Adam has hit a child, has almost knocked over elderly parishioners whilst dashing from his pew, has spit at people and has urinated in the church, claims which Ms Race denies.

"His behaviour at Mass is extremely disruptive and dangerous," wrote Walz, according to the news agency. "Adam is 13 and growing, so his behaviours grow increasingly difficult for his parents to manage."

The boy's mother, Carol Race, of Bertha in Minnesota, said she found out about the restraining order when she tried to attend Mass at her church, the Church of St Joseph. Todd County Sheriff Pete Mikkelson warned Ms Race that she would be taken into police custody if she and her son entered St Joseph.

Ms Race, of Bertha in Minnesota, denies the priest's claims and states that although Adam may be noisy at times, they usually sit in the back of the church and try to stay quiet. She said that the restraining order amounts to discrimination.

"My son is not dangerous," she said. She said that the church's restraining order reflected "a certain community's fears of him. Fears of danger versus actual danger."

Jane Marrin, acting spokeswoman for the Diocese of St Cloud, said the church board tried working with the Races to find "reasonable accommodations" including a video feed of Mass down to the church basement, according to the Associated Press. Marrin said that Ms Race refused the church's suggestions.

The action by Rev Daniel Walz of the Church of St Joseph in Minnesota, US, has angered autism charities. Ivan Corea, head of the Autism Awareness Campaign UK, urged churches all over the world to try and understand what autism is and to go back to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his many healings of people with disabilities.

"Churches need to reach out to the marginalised, the socially excluded, the downtrodden," said Ivan Corea who together with his wife Charika launched the Autism Awareness Campaign UK in 2000. They also initiated Autism Sunday which falls on the second Sunday in February every year.

The United Nations General Assembly recently launched the first ever World Autism Awareness Day. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised children with autism and their families for striving every day "to confront the disability with a powerful combination of determination, creativity and hope".

In his message marking the World Autism Awareness Day, Mr Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to build enabling environments for children with disabilities so they can prosper as future members of their communities, citizens of their countries and as fully-fledged members of the global community.