The Vatican’s first ever conference on autism, “The Person with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Animating Hope,” will be held this week. Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright have been invited to speak at the conference and will focus on volunteerism when they address attendees – including families – on Friday, November 21.
Organizers told the Associated Press the event is the biggest medical conference of its kind on autism, gathering more than 650 experts from 57 countries.
The Rev. P. Augusto Chendi of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers told reporters the aim of the conference and the papal audience is to "help break the isolation, and in many cases the stigma, that surrounds people affected by autistic spectrum disorders."
In the spirit of inclusion and volunteerism, Pope Francis will call on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to embrace people who have autism at the conference. This is the latest example of his efforts to make the church a “home for all” by rethinking social issues and the role of science, and by embracing people who are marginalized.
The conference will cover genomic research, treatment, and acceptance of the estimated 70 million people worldwide living with autism. Topics include the brain and behavior; environmental factors in autism; early diagnosis; technology like iPads that can improve the quality of life, and ways for volunteers to help.