In honor of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, I am pleased to share a guest reflection below written by my cousin, Ellen Wimberg Cicconi, the mother of two sons on the autism spectrum. Among her many advocacy activities around autism, for more than ten years she and her family have entered a team in the Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraiser in the Pittsburgh area where she lives. Her annual appeal mailing has become a welcome rite of spring, because she always shares something of her journey along with the request for contributions. This year’s brought a true gem of real-life theology.
I have adopted St. John the Baptist as a personal autism patron saint. The parallels between John and people on the autism spectrum are quite striking. Consider what we know about him:
- His parents were of an advanced age when he was conceived, a known risk factor for autism;
- He had a very selective and unusual diet;
- He wore the same clothes daily either unaware or unconcerned about his personal hygiene;
- He lived apart from mainstream society;
- He was drawn to water;
- He perseverated on topics that either did not interest or just bothered others;
- He was unrelenting in his message and was unconcerned that he gave offense;
- He was verbally and physically abused (bullied) to death.
John was an outsider, he was different, and yet his cousin Jesus started his ministry with him. Jesus loved his cousin and saw what was beautiful and true in him, what was unique and important for the larger world. Jesus saw beyond John’s difference and recognized God’s love, grace and power acting through John. God blessed John in a special way. The life of St. John the Baptis serves as a reminder that each of us has a place in our church and in our world. We are special and beautiful instruments of God.
On World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks celebrates its international Light It Up Blue Campaign. Thousands of iconic landmarks, communities, businesses and homes across the globe unite by shining bright blue lights in honor of the millions of individuals and families around the world affected by autism.
World Autism Awareness Day was adopted by the United Nations in 2007 to shine a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis. Autism is one of only three health issues to be recognized with its own day by the United Nations. WAAD activities increase world knowledge of autism and impart information about the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of persons with autism around the world.