Catholics must break down isolation surrounding people with autism spectrum disorder, says Pope

Catholics must help to break down the isolation and stigma that surrounds people with autism spectrum disorder, Francis has said.

The Pope made the comments in an address to hundreds of parents and children affected by autism in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican on Saturday.

He appealed for the creation of “a network of support and services” to assist people on the autism spectrum.

According to a Vatican Radio transcript, the Pontiff said: “Everyone should be committed to promoting acceptance, encounter and solidarity through concrete support and by encouraging renewed hope. In this way we can contribute to breaking down the isolation and, in many cases, the stigma burdening people with autism spectrum disorders, and just as often their families.

“This must not be an anonymous or impersonal accompaniment, but one of 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, especially for families. It is a Cross.

“Assistance to people affected by autism spectrum disorders would benefit greatly from the creation of a network of support and services on the ground that are comprehensive and accessible. These should involve, in addition to parents, grandparents, friends, therapists, educators and pastoral workers. These figures can help families overcome the feelings, that can sometimes arise, of inadequacy, uselessness and frustration.”

In addition to the parents and children affected by autism, 650 experts from 57 countries were also present in the Paul VI audience hall. They were attending a three-day conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Health Care on “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope”.

The NHS defines autism spectrum disorder as a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.