Pope urged to act on autism after Minnesota church ban

Autism campaigners are calling on Pope Bendict to act on autism in the wake of a church ban on a 13-year-old boy with autism in Bertha, Minnesota in the US.

Adam Race, who has severe autism, and his mother Carol have worshipped for a number of years at the Roman Catholic Church of St Joseph in Bertha.

Last week, controversy erupted when Rev Daniel Walz of the Church of St Joseph obtained a restraining order against the mother and autistic boy on the grounds of 'disruptive behaviour,' out of "a growing concern for the safety of parishioners".

According to Autism Awareness Campaign UK, the church alleged that Adam had urinated in the church, had bumped into parishoners, and had also made sounds during the service.

The Sheriff of Todd County had told Carol Race that if she took her son to Mass and entered the church, they would be arrested. The controversy has stirred debate in light of the 60 million people with autism around the world.

Around 1 in 150 children is on the autism spectrum in the US, whilst in the UK 1 in 100 children has autism - over 500,000 people are on the spectrum, says Autism Awareness.

"Numbers are rising all the time, probarbly due to better diagnosis so many children and young people with autism will be entering churches," the charity said.

"Autism is a 24 hour job and it is a daily struggle for parents and carers. Some have to fight for public services for their children. Others are desperate for access to education, health, specialist speech therapy and respite care," it added.

Recently the United Nations General Assembly in New York launched the first ever United Nations World Autism Awareness Day. The UN hopes to highlight the complex needs of parents, carers, children and adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome.

At the time, the UN Secretary-General 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.

Autism campaigners are now calling on Pope Bendeict to issue guidelines to Roman Catholic churches on how to deal with children and adults with disabilities like autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Other Church leaders around the world have been urged to do the same.

No pope has ever talked publicly over autism and Pope Benedict has been asked to address this issue in the wake of the controversy in Minnesota.

Churches are being asked to understand the complex needs of children and adults with autism.

The Autism Awareness Campaign UK is urging churches in the UK to have sensory rooms or a quiet area for 'time out' if things get too much for a child or adult with autism, training for clergy and staff on autism, the use of a communication system like PECs (Picture Exchange Communication systems) in churches and other resources for autism.

Above all, campaigners are calling for a partnership between religious organisations and parents and carers in order to address issues that may arise.