February 8th is Autism Sunday

Sunday, February 8th, has been designated as Autism Sunday, an international day of prayer for those with autism spectrum disorders. Autism Sunday was first held in 2002 during Autism Awareness Year in the United Kingdom. This event is a new way to raise autism awareness around the world:

World Church Leaders have sent messages of support to the organizers of Autism Sunday – the International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome scheduled to be held on Sunday 8th February 2009. Cathedrals, Churches and religious organizations around the world are to mark the international day and pray for over 60 million people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Autism is one of a group of conditions known as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), neurobehavioral syndromes caused by dysfunctions in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord system), including autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. The word “spectrum” is important in understanding autism, because there is a wide range of behavioral signs and symptoms, degrees of severity, and types of disorders. The degree of disability depends on the disorder, and can range from mild to severe. No cure exists.

ASDs can lead to lifelong problems, beginning during infancy and early childhood. They can cause substantial difficulty in thinking and learning, and in developing the abilities and skills needed to communicate, interact with other people, and become increasingly independent. People with ASDs may engage in unusual, repetitive behaviors and become over-focused on a very narrow interest or range of interests. Many people with ASDs also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, and reacting to different sensations and situations.

ASDs are the fastest-growing diagnoses among the developmental disabilities in the United States. According to the Autism Society of America, the diagnosis of autism is increasing at a rate of 10% to 17% a year. Today, 1 in every 150 people younger than 22 are diagnosed with an ASD, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.

The organizers of Autism Sunday say that the event is meant to encourage the public “to forge meaningful relationships between people with developmental disabilities, their families and members of your religious community, and to recognize the worth of each person and treat them with the respect and fairness they deserve.” Amen!